The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been under fire for the lack of progress in its transition from a law enforcement agency to an integrated intelligence agency. Many are calling for a significant cultural change at the agency.

This is not a new issue for the FBI as they have been struggling for years. They have recently taken a page from Google and set up “campfire meeting areas.” These innovative workspaces are intended to drive cultural change by encouraging a more fluid work environment and create opportunities for collaboration.

Unfortunately, this type of action is not sufficient to drive cultural change. Although common work areas and “pods” can be helpful, the FBI may be doomed to fail without a strong foundation. They’ve put the “cart before the horse.”

Any program designed to change an organization’s culture must be based on an understanding that culture is made up of the collective behavior of an organization’s individual members and the process used to get work done.

Organizations that are effective at achieving cultural change ensure 3 critical elements are in place.

1. Define the Ideal Future State

Clarifying or reaffirming the mission and vision is the place to start. It is also important that this picture of the future is shared by employees at all levels of the organization. With this target in mind, you can now ask, “What are the behaviors and competencies that will ensure we achieve this outcome?”

2. Shape Behavior

Once the behaviors that support the desired culture have been identified, communicating expectations is an important next step but it is not sufficient. The old behaviors must be replaced with the new. The primary responsibility of facilitating change in behavior is the managers and to help “shape behavior” managers have 3 tools to draw on.

  • Coaching and feedback – people need to know when they are on track and what areas need improvement. They are also likely to need guidance to help transition to the new behaviors.
  • Recognition and rewards – help reinforce positive behavior change. It helps sent the message, “That’s what good looks like” and “You can do it.”
  • Consequences – just as there needs to be rewards to reinforce using the new behaviors there also need to be consequences to discourage the use of old behaviors.

3. Review and Adjust Systems and Work Processes

Systems and work processes ensures the use of new behaviors gets to “critical mass.” They outline how people should work with internal and external stakeholders – they provide guidelines in which the new behaviors are applied. In this way they institutionalize the behavior and ensure the change moves beyond a few individuals scattered around the organization.

Two key systems at the manager’s disposal are the Performance Management system – which is the primary vehicle to communicate expectations and provide rewards and consequences for current employees – and the Selection and Hiring system – which, by using the new behaviors as context, increases the likelihood new employees will a good fit with the new culture.

Many leaders find the term culture vague and difficult to get their arms around. And this is at the center of the problem – if you can’t name it you can’t get it. Understanding that an organization’s culture is known by observing the behavior of its employees and the processes used to get work done provides leaders with a concrete place to start the work of driving culture change.