Changing culture is pretty easy. In fact, it’s impossible to avoid.
Step into a room of people – you’ll influence the culture. Turn up to work – you’ll impact workplace culture. Let’s face it – any stranger, in any town, walks into a cafe or a bar and there’s a fair chance the culture changes, albeit slightly. The quintessential western scene resonates because it’s true – if you’re around people, you’re probably impacting culture.
It’s impossible to avoid. Culture is fluid – it constantly evolves.
The terror and excitement of being a youthful industry
The fitness industry is very young. Customer needs and wants in this fledgling market are many, varied and evolving. Like many industries we’re exposed to trends, fads, increasingly knowledgeable consumers and a shifting competitor landscape. Unlike more established industries – finance, manufacturing, retail – we lack the business and consumer insight gained through centuries of operation to guide our future decision making. It makes running a fitness business terrifying and exciting all at once.
This dynamic brings the customer into sharper focus. Further, it sharpens the focus on the customer’s perception of your brand. In this regard many, including Fitness First, have in the past fallen short of expectations. Many, like Fitness First are now rapidly coming up to speed.
Four things that are helping us sustain cultural change at Fitness First
For us, shifting Fitness First culture to focus on our customers is proving successful for a number of reasons, but there are four things that are helping us sustain the cultural change.
- Start at home: Conventional wisdom might suggest we look to our customers for guidance. In some ways we’d lost sight of their needs, so starting with our customers might make sense, but we felt the problem went deeper. Before we could understand what our customers might want, we needed to identify with what had to offer. More importantly, we needed to clarity why we would offer it.
Michael Henderson’s recent post on culture sums this moment up nicely;
“There are many different ways of describing company culture, ranging from the popular and overly simplistic “The way we do things around here” to the more accurate and useful “Why we do things this way, around here”.
Understanding why you provide the products and services to your communities drives clarity in strategy, leadership, workplace standards, behavioural standards and ultimately service standards. For us – it allows our business strategy to be consistent with a fitness philosophy that builds confidence and helps our members go further in life.
- Seek advice (and take it on board): One of the advantages of being in a young industry is the ability to take guidance from early adopters. We look to other industries that have driven successful business outcomes through customer-centric strategies, and we’re driven by emerging trends driving market perception, particularly social media to help understand and drive our perception in the marketplace.
As a company you can be innovative, but that rarely equates to having all the answers.
- Involve everyone: If constant change is a universal truth, and all people impact your culture, then it makes sense to get everyone involved. On launching our new brand in 2014 we implemented a cultural change program that involved everyone – including vendors. We used tools like Harvard Business Review’s Service Profit Chain to target initiatives in each of our workplace and customer communities to not only drive change, but make it visible, learn from the impact and further evolve.
Take on board as much information as you can, assess it (quickly) and make decisions accordingly, but be wary of consensus decision making – it can stall action. If unsure – see step 2.
- Work fast, but don’t do it all at once: Like many turnaround businesses, ours required quick thinking and an immediate shift in not only culture, but the entrenched activities that were driving culture. That said, the need to fill gaps, address inefficiencies and turning around poor practices is constant, so knee-jerk responses may have created more problems that they solved.
For us, being clear about the practices that need to end has been a good starting point, but not all of these could stop at once, and not every practice had a better practice to take its place. Fortunately William Bridges’ view on managing transitions helped here and we still maintain transition activities while we rebuild our culture.
It’s easy to change workplace culture, to make your culture different. While the easy path will certainly take you to a different place, it might not be the intended destination.
What do you think?