Do a Google search for “culture change” and check a handful of the 2.58 billion results. Just about anywhere you click, you will find a series of steps complete with very nice graphics that usually begin with steps such as “clarify values”, “begin with a vision” and “construct clarity”. Do you find anything missing?
Don’t get me wrong, those things are useful and necessary. Unquestionably, culture change is doomed to fail without a strong leadership and a coherent narrative, but it is also doomed to fail without a first step that is rarely if ever mentioned: what problem are you trying to fix?
Before you look into how culture change must be implemented, you need to ask why should the culture change, and whether a culture change is necessary at all. The golden rule is that culture change needs to respond to a real need and, just as importantly, needs to be perceived as such not just by the top management but also by the rest of the organisation.
The board may well set a very clear vision, yet change for change’s sake (whether that’s actually the case or perceived as such) will be doomed to fail because people in the organisation will see it as a whimsical imposition from a management that’s out of touch – and the most likely outcome is that they will resist it and sooner or later fall back to their previous practices. And who could blame them? Culture change cannot be perceived by the incumbents as a mere PR stunt that disrupts (in the worst, traditional sense of the word) working practices that they regard as tried and tested.
So, it is very important that, before launching into a culture change drive:
(a) a problem has been isolated;
(b) the solution has been identified;
(c) it’s been determined that, for the solution to work, the way in which a number of things are currently done needs to change; and
(d) all of the above has been properly communicated to all stakeholders who, through strong and effective leadership are now fully on board and on the same page.
Following on part one of this article, you will need a culture change when you are introducing new technologies that make the way you work more efficient. But the culture change cannot be limited to simply using a new technology, but also reworking how the organisation is to use that tool in a sensical way and get the most value and efficiency out of it.
As an example, management realises that certain manual processes in the company (e.g., some compliance tasks) would be a lot more efficient if they were automated, and that the answer is to implement an RPA (robotic process automation) solution. This would allow commercial personnel to concentrate on their core tasks, compliance would be immediate, consistent and reduce bottlenecks, resulting in greater productivity and improving the bottom line overall. However, unless people in the organisation change the way they work so as to use the new RPA solution efficiently, the new solution will likely not fly. And by “change the way they work” we can think of not only using the RPA solution, but also better coordination between certain areas that were previously working as silos, adapting policies and procedures and thinking how processes will be optimised wearing the RPA hat, in a way that makes sense given the new situation.
In this example, the business will end up improving overall not because of culture change in itself, but because a culture change was implemented to the extent that was necessary to enable the solution to the problem to work.
To summarise the points made in this two-part article: you could say that the very own structural and organisational inefficiencies of an entity are often the main reason why a number of things that don’t work as they should are not fixed. This is a vicious circle of inefficiency that needs to be broken if things are to be corrected. And the problem tends to become more acute the larger the organisation is and the more reporting lines there are.
So, what’s the solution? Do you see a pattern emerging from the factors identified in the first part of this article? There is no silver bullet but it seems to me that a more effective, stronger leadership that strengthens a clear sense of ownership, accountability and “seeing the big picture” in the organisation would be a fantastic starting point.
From there on, in order to ensure maximum buy-in for a culture change to take place, it will be a matter of properly assessing, articulating and communicating what the problems are, what the appropriate solutions will be, and the steps required to implement those solutions. Let change management begin.