How do you change organizational culture? If you trust leadership books, you’d bet on the habits and actions we take every day. Search any leadership-book catalog, and you’ll find hundreds of popular books on practices—The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Leaders, The Power of Habit, the list goes on—all suggesting that the complex nature of culture breaks down to a million micro-moments and changing habits.

It makes sense. Habits are part of our chemistry and influence our lives every day. A study determined that approximately 45 percent of everything we do on a daily basis is driven by our habits. Without thinking, we move from one task to the next, another interaction, another seemingly simple task.

Until you try to change a habit, that is.

Think about the last time you quit something or decided to change course. There’s a reason we only celebrate that kind of change once a year. It feels against our nature. You know the feeling. Try putting your phone down for a half-hour after years of binge scrolling or reworking a morning routine. The urge to grab the phone happens without even thinking. It’s like writing with the less dominant hand, almost like you’re doing something wrong.

Now multiply that out across an entire organization. How do we change habits at scale? How do we use habit change across an entire organization, with the larger goal of changing culture?

Work culture is steeped in habits

While the leadership books on habits are helpful, it’s not easy to change habits broadly or within a culture with long-standing routines and systems created by those decades of instinctual decisions. But it’s more important than ever for the attraction and retention of employees. When candidates rank what is most important in selecting a new role, they put culture just behind the number one reason: flexible work.

While candidates are using culture as a criterion for selecting a new organizations, talent teams aren’t feeling so confident. As organizational talent leaders, how do you take on that task and build the habits that lead to a culture that people love?

In a recent webinar with Ia Ko, Senior People Science Consultant at Glint; Kailey Burrows, People Development Specialist at Bell Flight; and Jenessa Disler, Manager of People & Culture at Bell Flight, they took on the how behind this project to discover what Bell Flight did to cultivate culture.

It starts with data: Creating organizational culture

After almost five years of focusing on culture change led by introducing a new CEO, Bell Flight was planning a culture survey. Then COVID hit. They weren’t sure how to keep showing up in a crisis. 

“There was a lot of fear in that. No one had a playbook on what to do,” Jenessa said.

The team recognized that while there were many unknowns, this, too, was an employee experience. It was an opportunity to put culture into action in a way that could help employees feel safe, secure, and confident.

It wasn’t always straightforward and successful. There were missteps along the way. However, the organization saw improvements from those insights and actions at all levels in the organization. By making a habit of collecting data and giving each leader access to that data, they could impact the employee’s day-to-day experience.

For example, the team saw in employee survey results that senior leadership was scoring poorly on decision-making. With this data in hand, they took action. The Bell Flight team conducted focus groups with the senior leaders to collaborate on better decision-making and teach leaders how to create better conversations with their teams.

Lesson learned: How you can replicate these results

Not sure where you should start addressing your organizational culture? 

“Start with feedback and insights,” Kailey said. “With feedback, you can take some quick action to address key concerns.”

Then, conduct more surveys to ask employees if they feel supported. Make data a habit. Listen to and understand what employees need to be successful. Make decisions that reward your employees for honesty.

Finally, take action. The Bell Flight team recommends using the ACT framework. ACT is an acronym for Acknowledging where you are, Collaborating on where you want to go, and Taking one step forward.

Watch the webinar now to hear firsthand how the team put the acronym, and their new habits, into action to transform the culture at Bell Flight.