Culture Hacking

Who would ever think you could change a
company’s culture by hacking into it like a computer.

Well not only is it possible but it is
becoming one of the today’s most powerful ways to bring about corporate culture

In the same way computers are made useful
by software and our ability to interface with them, organizations are made
useful by employees and their ability to provide valuable product/service
solutions. So if employees are the “software” that powers corporate
productivity, how do we “re-write the code” which influences their behavior?


Every company has a culture which dictates
the “acceptable way” for employees to act and speak. The culture is often NOT
fashioned in the image of the owner or principles but is rather a collection of
employee beliefs and behaviors which have evolved over time. The organizational
culture may also have negative and positive aspects. There are diverse and
sometimes conflicting cultures that co-exist due to different characteristics
of the management team. When leaders are at odds in their management
philosophy, silos may develop.  This push and pull is highly unproductive
and a great deal of energy can be wasted in attempting to shift organizational
decisions toward a specific silo’s desired outcomes rather than in the interest
of the organization as a whole. These silos are
sometimes the result of unchecked “empire building” by middle
management and can stand in the way of creating a positive, productive and
functional company culture.

No alternative

A culture cannot be changed by installing
policies or procedures. This is a huge error made by well-meaning but deluded
leaders. Nor can we discipline employees with the hope that the behaviors will
change to ultimately shift the culture. Just as unsuccessful in culture change
is the notion that we can “incentivize” employees to modify their beliefs
and behaviors. Employees will be resentful and unwilling to change when being
manipulated by any means even if it is done with sincerity and a pure heart. So
how do we get people to change their erroneous beliefs and modify their

 How to Hack

We must “hack-into” the social structures
and implant “doubt” so employees begin to question their long-held beliefs and
act-out ingrained, dysfunctional behaviors.  This sounds more daunting
than it actually is. What this amounts to is giving our employees a “better
choice” when it comes to their response to; dealing with difficult
personalities, balancing conflicting agendas, meeting unrealistic expectations,
engaging in emotional control, relieving stress and enduring disappointment
over inconsistent rewards. In other words, rather than tolerating an
environment where employees are engaging in gossip, a better choice might be to
speak with a mentor. A better choice to abdicating responsibility is to “take”
responsibility because your boss/company will always back-you-up even when
you’re WRONG. A better choice to slamming someone in another department because
they don’t see your point of view is to help develop mutual understanding
through cross-training. Behavioral change is a process; it requires practice.
As leaders it is our responsibility to create the right environment where
functional behavior can prosper and before we know it the culture is changing
of its own power.


Here are some ways that we can begin the
process of “hacking-into” the culture in a practical way:

1. Make a
“results contract” with the leaders in your organization. The energy for change
comes from the tension between current and aspired results, a tension that the
organization cannot resolve without change. Have the business leaders take
accountability for closing the gap.

2. Lead a
business transformation project. Integrate the culture change initiative into
the business strategy. Have a logical thread from the new behaviors to the
aspired results. Refer to this thread constantly.

3. Set
outcome metrics. Ask the leaders to define what concrete and measurable results
they would see if the project succeeded. Use these metrics to assess progress.

4. Start
with demonstrations from leaders. Ask leaders to explain and display the new
behaviors before any cascade activities. They don´t have to do it perfectly,
but they must show their commitment in action.

5. Focus on business. Facilitate
operational meetings and help people do their real jobs more effectively
through the new attitudes and behaviors. Consider workshops and coaching only
when there is a pull; that is, when people want to learn how to be even more

 6. Don’t play favorites. Treat all team
members the same in terms of their value and contributions.

 Changing a company culture requires time,
focus and determination but it is possible. Next time you hear about those hackers
and the damage they are doing to network servers. Think about doing some
positive hacking of your own to create a more harmonious, productive and
satisfying workplace for all your team members.

Mark Deo