10/04/2011 03:03 pm ET Updated Dec 03, 2011

When's the Best Time to Create a New Culture?

We've been concentrating lately on figuring out the best way to beat tough times. And suddenly it's gotten crystal clear. This is the time for transformation -- and by transformation, we mean a culture shakeup.

If you want to survive a stressful economy, it means lighting a fire under your talent -- finding the magic that will make them super engaged, committed and productive.

What might that look like? How about a truly flexible, supportive work environment -- one that will be comprehensive and lasting -- one that will transform your culture and inject both employees and managers with new energy?  

There's no one-size-fits-all plan or strategy to ensure success; any effort must be tailored to your organization. But there are definitely steps any organization can take that will increase your chances of success. Our idea is to first do a study of what is, and then create a few experiments to show what could be. 

Are you the one to take it on? Maybe not, but if you look around and no one else is doing it, you may be the one to start it. You might even be able to make it look like so much fun you'll have a host of followers to take the ball and run with it.

Create a task force. You don't have to go it alone. A representative task force will help solicit buy-in, add credibility to your recommendations, divide the work and give more people a sense of responsibility for the outcome.

Be clear about your organization's goals. Even if you've been invited by top management to transform your culture, it's still a good idea to link your efforts to the company's goals. So be clear about what they are. Take a few days to interview leaders in every area of the company to hear what they see are the company's goals and what it will take to achieve them.

Benchmark. It's a good time to be collecting information about best practices. It can be as easy as getting this month's issue of Working Mother magazine.

Analyze current internal conditions. An employee survey can find out what's keeping employees from being fully committed and engaged, and what would make a difference. Focus groups can deepen the understanding that began with the survey. Groups for managers alone can be mutually educational, focusing their attention on what the company could do to make their employees more engaged. Employee groups can answer the same question from their perspective. What would motivate them to go the extra mile for the organization?

Explore community resources. Use your task force to investigate available services and establish connections with those that may be able to help your workforce. Build a "resource bank" of services that can be valuable both in the creation and implementation of your recommendations.

Look at your challenges and create solutions. Make a list of the goals you've gathered from senior leaders and begin to isolate and list the issues and needs that have emerged from your study. Brainstorm solutions, using your benchmarking data for suggestions. Build a business case for each potential solution. (Ask us if you need help.) You might create a long-term and short-term plan, including the "slam-dunks" in the short-term plan and the more drastic measures to be implemented gradually, after some management training and preparation.

Then present your recommendations, involving the entire task force, if possible, in a meeting with as many senior leaders as you can gather together. Empower each task force member to answer specific questions. Suggest pilot projects for anything that may seem a little radical or untested.

Obviously, this is just the beginning. But it could be the first steps to an organization that's truly transformed.