What Is a Culture Gap — and How Can You Shrink It?

Gustavo Grodnitzky Organizational Culture, Organizational Effectiveness

Last week I walked into yet another company that had a culture gap. This is a phenomenon I have experienced many times in the consulting world. What is a culture gap? It’s the difference between how leaders believe work gets done in their company and how employees really get that work done.

While I’m very familiar with culture gaps, only recently have I seen a study about them with actual data.

In this article, authors DeAnne Aguirre, Varya Davidson and Carolin Oelschlegel provide compelling numbers. For example:

  • 71% of C-suite executives say culture is one of their organization’s leadership priorities. But only 48% of non-managers agree. These numbers speak to the disconnect between how leaders believe they are behaving and how non-management employees see and interpret their behavior.
  • In 2018, 80% of leaders indicated that their company must change its culture to meet its goals. In 2013, that number was 51%. These numbers speak to the increased awareness of the power and influence of workplace culture.

4 Ways to Close the Culture Gap

So does this type of disconnect exist in your organization? More importantly, is there anything you can do about it? Here are four ideas:

  1. Plan for a cultural evolution, not revolution. Radical change is temporary; incremental change is permanent. To make long-term change, take incremental, measured steps to reach your goal. The faster you try to change, the more resistance you will experience.
  2. Connect with your people on an emotional level. Aguirre, Davidson and Oelschlegel urge “tuning in to the emotions of the workforce.” This can represent a big shift for leaders who have been taught to communicate using rational and analytic thought. They tend to be less comfortable with emotional content and topics. Rational and analytic approaches win minds. Emotional approaches win hearts. Rational approaches create followers. Emotional approaches create raving fans. Rational approaches get people to work to the goal. Emotional approaches get people to work beyond the goal.
  3. Get comfortable with discomfort. To shift the culture, leaders must listen to people from all corners of the organization — and some of them are going to say things leaders don’t want to hear. But this feedback is a gift. Leading without it is like trying to drive a car blind. You may be able to do it briefly, but you won’t get very far.
  4. You go first. Whatever behaviors you are asking of your people must be displayed by you and your leadership team first. Gandhi said, “We must be the change we want to see in the world.” Be the change you want to see in your culture. If you become that change, others will follow.

There are lots of ways to get a culture shift wrong. These are just a few of the steps to getting it right.

I’d love to hear your questions or comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note.

Keep cultivating your culture!