How To Implement Culture Change In A 70-Year-Old Company—Without An Employee Rebellion

New leadership can mean all kinds of changes at an organization, but the hardest one by far to create and sustain is culture change. 

This is especially true if the organization has been around for decades. Longtime employees are comfortable with the way things are, from the way they’re expected to engage with supervisors to how staff celebrations are managed. 

The management staff is often set in its ways and unwilling to change them. After all, if things have been working for however many years, why change them? 

Of course, change is necessary if a company is to continue to stay relevant. This has been more true the past year than perhaps it ever has before. 

One entrepreneur who’s been at the helm of this kind of change in a major way is the Montreal-based Frederico Pannetta, who became CEO of the 70-plus-year-old manufacturing company Gould Industries in 2015.  

I spoke with Pannetta recently about how he’s been leading and embracing culture change at Gould since taking the helm. 

Shama Hyder: What were some of the biggest changes you implemented in regards to company culture?

Frederico Pannetta: Some of the biggest challenges that we’ve faced in regard to improving company culture include encouraging employee autonomy as well as flexibility. We allow our employees to exercise choice and let go of their 40-hour work weeks. It allows them to be able to control their own schedule and promotes a more pleasant working environment throughout. This is of utmost importance especially in the midst of this pandemic. This way, our employees can manage their own responsibilities. This promotes growth within the company and gives employees an opportunity to grow themselves as well.  

Hyder: What are some of the strategies you used in order to help your staff feel comfortable with your leadership, and where you were taking the company? 

Pannetta: I established a narrative of being part of a changing culture, rather than following it. Involving the staff in creating a new path and new way of doing things helps everyone become comfortable with change. 

People tend to see me being good to people, both expecting hard work and dedication but also giving opportunities for growth and helping others along the way. The tight link to people and kindness is what makes them follow you long-term.

Since we’ve made these changes, the company has become young again and we’re attracting a new generation of workers. 

Hyder: What would you tell another entrepreneur who’s struggling to get employee buy-in on new changes (whether to operations, or culture, or processes)?

Pannetta: Change is bound to happen, and employees will not always be happy with that. Oftentimes employees are hesitant to change because they have grown accustomed to the current processes and a deviation to this might seem worrisome or even troublesome. It’s crucial in times such as this to be able to demonstrate the vision that you have, and why these changes are being made in order to successfully transition into these new processes.

Hyder: What are three pieces of advice you’d give another entrepreneur who’s coming in to lead an already established company?

Three key pieces of advice I’d give to another entrepreneur coming into this business is to challenge themselves, have a plan, and communicate well with their team to propel this plan into action. 

As a starting entrepreneur, you will encounter challenges at every turn. Perseverance and tenacity are what will drive your company forward. As the CEO of a company, your will is what will inspire and lead your team to the success or failure of your company. 

Having a plan is another crucial stepping-stone in order to propel the company. A well-developed plan, and goals along the way for how that plan will be achieved, are critical to your success. For example, I encountered some difficulties as the company was growing at an exponential rate. A strong plan and economies of scale allowed me to be capable of keeping up with the growing demand. 

Finally, none of this can be achieved without strong communication throughout the company. Everyone needs to be on the same page and have a proper mindset. A strong team will follow a strong leader, and that leader must have a drive to succeed and a strong vision that is infectious.

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