Culture intersects with every aspect of a company, so much that even employees with divergent or corrective ideas may feel pressure to conform to alleviate the stress of not bonding with their workplace. But even when a company’s current culture is functional and pleasant, you should consider challenging it if it doesn’t support your most important objectives.
As I’ve progressed through my company from marketing manager to chief relationship officer to president, I’ve recognized the entrenched sense of “fitting in” that new employees feel bound to. But cultural ecosystems evolve constantly—or, at least, they should—and sometimes it takes fresh eyes to see what needs to change. That’s why instead of defining the company’s cultural trademarks and broadcasting them, I invite employees to shape and reshape the culture in order to create a team with complementary values and diverse ideas and opinions.
If you’ve recently taken a new job and have ideas for how your company could improve, speak up. As someone who follows cultural impact closely, I assure you that your insights are valuable and needed. These are three strategies I’ve learned to help change a company’s culture:
1. Understand what the company needs.
People are wary of criticism. They’re 30 times likelier to be actively engaged in the workplace when their strengths are recognized instead of their weaknesses—and they may worry that a new initiative will add more work to their plates. So you’ll want to demonstrate that your idea will make everyone’s lives more satisfying.
When I started at Rocksauce, the company was lean and outcome-driven, and it didn’t spend much time contemplating culture or core values. But after attending a leadership conference centered on organizational culture, I realized that the company could become even better if it focused on that area. I volunteered to create a streamlined system for managing employee benefits and a more transparent protocol for requesting time off.
After piloting a few initiatives, I proved that a more transparent culture made the company more productive and creative. Addressing cultural problems freed the company to focus on bigger-picture priorities and helped develop its current gratitude-based, positive work environment.
2. Do your homework.
When you observe a practice or attitude that could use an update, offer a specific solution or plan of action. Before you present it to your superiors, however, find out whether similar initiatives have been attempted. If so, how were they received? Did they succeed or fail? Understanding the context of the problem will strengthen your pitch and make it more likely to be approved. Study the company’s mission statement, and tie your proposal back to the organization’s values and overarching goals in order to make as compelling a case as possible.
Then, find a time to meet with your direct supervisor to float the idea. If you already undergo regular review sessions—at 30, 45 or 60 days—you can utilize those moments. Your manager should be able to provide valuable feedback, not to mention help you strategize the timing of your presentation. He might know of an upcoming management meeting where your topic is on the agenda, or he might tell you to hold off on mentioning it until a busy quarter ends. Timing can make all the difference in innovation, so bring some knowledgeable allies into your plan who can help pinpoint the right moment.
3. Bring your whole self to the project.
Speaking up as a new employee is tough. You may feel a strong urge to blend in, mistaking conformity for happiness. While happy employees benefit in many ways, from superior productivity to better health, studies have shown workplace conformity to be at odds with the strongest teamwork.
Celebrate your distinct traits, and share your divergent ideas. When leaders hire for culture fit, they don’t hire people just like themselves; they hire team members who will challenge them and help them devise more creative ways to get work done together. For example, we recently hired as a manager a serious gamer who incorporates gaming strategies into her tasks, and her “work is play” attitude and unique take on management has energized the company. Similarly, don’t be afraid to leverage your strengths and interests when driving change, no matter how unorthodox.
As a new hire, you’re in a position to offer invaluable feedback about how the company is perceived, how well it does at integrating new team members, and how it can do better for both employees and customers. Be the change you want to see in your workplace. You and your company will be all the better for it.