Following Tesco boss Dave Lewis’s email to staff calling for a “change in our culture”, Retail Week speaks to experts about what the grocer needs to do.

1. Be serious

If a company truly wants to overhaul its culture, it must be serious, advises Martin Cook, principal consultant, organisational change at consultancy Bernard Hodes.

“Don’t try and do it in a cosmetic manner - real company change takes time and commitment.” He adds that companies shouldn’t try to overhaul everything at once. “Identify one or two types of behaviour that need changing and try to really make a difference with those,” he says.

2. Involve staff

Senior leadership must speak with employees to discover the reality of company behaviour. “They must get a clear picture of the company’s espoused values and what is actually experienced,” says Cook. In order to encourage conversation, companies are advised to bring in an external company or person to hold conversations about company culture with staff.  

But there’s no need to bring in an external company to overhaul the company’s culture. “For culture to really change, it has to come from within. Businesses can get help and delegate part of it to a consultancy, but change really needs to come from the leadership of the company,” he adds.

3. Reclaim original values

To successfully change company culture, businesses should revisit their founding principles, says Professor Veronica Hope-Hailey, dean of the School of Management at the University of Bath. She says: “Companies that are successful in transforming their culture go back to the legacy and the original purpose of the organisation. It’s not all just about results - it could be contribution to society. If you look at what happened at Tesco, the focus was on results and that’s a very narrow measure of an organisation as a whole.”

4. Find key influencers to help

Businesses should seek out ‘informed influencers’ - those people in the organisation who are seen by their peers as trustful – to help change company culture, says John Childress, founding partner of consulting firm The Principia Group. “Many people trust their peers rather than upper management. Companies looking to undergo change should recruit these key people and bring them on board to help change,” he says.

5. Build new procedures

To sustain a new company culture, new procedures and policies need to be created. “For example, a particular company culture might have been created because store management are too busy doing paperwork rather than spending time with employees,” explains Childress. This needs addressing with new values and missions and a framework in place to create this change.

6. Model behaviour

As company culture is often embodied in the leadership, businesses should look to see how the top management behaves and look to change that behaviour. “Senior leadership sets the tone with which a company operates and their behaviour is often replicated across the company,” says Cook. “Sometimes the quickest and simplest way to change the company is to change the way the leadership acts and recognise their tone.”

Childress says companies should look to change their management, whether this is through promoting existing staff or bringing in new staff. “The company needs to hire different people and managers who want to part of a change,” says Childress. He also says companies could benefit from a retraining campaign across the company.

7. Check your rewards culture

Companies need to reassess how they reward their staff. Using the example of the banking industry, Cook says people working in the sector were often rewarded in a monetary way with bonuses even if they acted in a disreputable manner. “While rewarding with money is important to managing performance, often what gets rewarded is only results,” says Cook. “If you do that, it’s like saying ‘as long as we get the results we want it doesn’t matter the way we got it’. You’ve got to be mindful of the culture that creates. Employees should be rewarded for what they do and how they do it such as achieving sales targets in a co-operative manner.”

Hope-Hailey says that many companies end up focusing too heavily on results rather than softer issues such as benevolence. She pinpoints John Lewis as a company that has a high level of trust and integrity but also manages to achieve strong results.