Friday, March 28, 2014

Can a Company Culture be Changed on Purpose?

Culture is Collective Mindset, Attitude, Habit, and Brand.

Culture is perhaps the most invisible, but powerful fabric weaving around the modern businesses; can a company culture be changed on purpose? In fact, not so many organizations do so, rather, they take culture as something they have to accept, instead of something they can shape and influence.

Culture can absolutely be changed on purpose with the right management strategy. To systematically change the culture takes time, vision, and persistence by the senior leaders. If the leadership fails on one or more of these characteristics, the "old culture" wins by default. If the visionary leader and his or her team do not first go through a fine process of understanding their vital role is explaining the rationale for change, its benefits, the impact on people' roles, minimize any overdue resistance, and agree their modeling of the 'new' behaviors consistent with the change, then there could be issues. Thus, it seems to be common mainstream that culture change comes about 'on purpose', meaning through some sort of strategy or model.

Achieve awareness and get buy-in. But culture change is not simply a matter of defining a vision or "purpose" and then telling the people to get on with it. First, you need commitment and then resources, interaction, perseverance, repetition... It is about doing things differently...Even if you want to influence one individual, you have to achieve awareness, understanding and finally buy-in, and then multiply that with the many different people in an organization. So it takes time, repeated and consistent communication and very importantly authenticity in those who are the thought leaders. But the processes of change have started in the wrong place for the last century. Change management focuses on business process changes, assuming that culture change will occur as a result. The problem with this assumption is that culture is seldom created by business processes. It is created by management decision processes and management team interaction, both of which are directly impacted by what management believes about change, management's role in change and what is possible to achieve and change. These beliefs can form barriers to change that are labeled as "unchangeable" or are not recognized as drivers of the change process.

The process for culture change begins by revealing the links between the management system and culture. Culture is seldom changed intentionally because companies do not have a clear understanding of the link between profit and culture. This link affects today's profit and future profit. It offers new perspectives that help "free" management teams from old beliefs and behaviors that steal profits and prevent change. The greatest barriers to change reside in management perspectives. If new perspectives about change are not presented to management for consideration and adoption, then old management perspectives will work behind the scenes to sabotage improvement success and slow change down, outliving change initiative after change initiative. Once people gain new perspectives on change, change can happen very quickly and people will not go back to their old way of thinking. That's when culture change is accelerated and becomes sustainable.

The SENSES of people need to be engaged in organizational shifts. Culture is a socially transmitted process involving emotional values which drive core and sustainable business conversations which leadership and middle management need to engage in and measured accountability; Artifacts - what people can see and feel in the organization, and rituals - how business marks events, such as wins and how to celebrate, what is censured if deemed unacceptable under vision, mission, and strategy. One of the most effective ways (but not a quick way) is to empower the people to define their own meaning and actions to contribute towards culture changes, the evidence of needing change has to come from within the organization and that evidence needs to be visible to all to ensure the tipping point is reached.

All change management can and should be simple, using simple tools and clear messages. It should be owned and lived by the employees and the leaders, not by internal or external specialists in change. When companies turn change over to a department or group of experts, they "wash their hands" of taking total responsibility for its success. When this happens, real and lasting culture change becomes "someone else's problem". HR and OD are given the responsibility for culture change because they oversee "people processes" (hiring, firing, promotions, pay, training, etc.) and, therefore, must be the culture experts. When culture change is assigned to these departments, the ROI may never meet expectations because the right people are not directly involved in the effort or the commitment and because HR and OD have created some of the barriers that prevent change. The challenge, however, lies in making the message clear and advocating streamlined processes and simple tools.

Hence, culture can be changed on purpose, but it is not an easy task, it needs to apply systems thinking and process that bridge psychology and sociology; nature and nurture; science and art; mind and heart as well. But do not make a change too complex than it should be.We all know the simple is really hard and simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.


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