Changing The Way Things Are Done Around Here

Kevin Watson
Jun 11, 2013

Like people, organisations are creatures of habit with their own personalities and customs. Often the way things are done around here is so set in stone that it stops the company from changing and moving forward as it has to.

The pace of work is relentless and organisations find they have to respond rapidly to maintain profitability and stay ahead. How this is managed is the key to success…and maybe even survival.

When an organisation’s culture is misaligned with its business strategy & objectives, the following symptoms may appear: 

  • there is an unclear direction 
  • people assume decision-makers know more than they are telling 
  • everyone becomes more parochial
  • it becomes harder to get things done 
  • there is a lack of ownership & accountability 

The success of any programme to change culture will not only depend on real commitment from the senior leadership but also on how far down the rabbit hole they are willing to go!

Because there is no quick fix when changing behaviour, organisations need to pay attention to the whole system, not just tinker at the edges.

These key phrases can help:

1. Clarifying

Clarify what the organisation will be like. Focus on specific areas of performance and what will be different once the desired shift in culture has been made. This can help to identify that change is happening. Put the organisation’s purpose, vision, and values into words that state their impact on each person’s job. This gives people a common understanding of the desired culture that actually reflects the actions they must commit to on their jobs.

2. Sponsoring

A leadership strategy has to be formulated to change the leadership culture so as to change the structure of the organisation. Leaders must be clear that the organisation will be better off when everyone adopts the new way of behaving, as they play a critical role in changing the organisation’s culture.

They must be seen to support the cultural change…and in ways beyond verbal support. Many people want clear, confident and focused leadership during periods of change. However, other people want leaders who will reflect upon what is happening on the ground and adjust their plans accordingly. Most importantly, leaders need to develop emotional intelligence to handle people’s response to cope with emergent issues.

3. Designing

Identify the physical structure of the company needed to support the desired organisational culture, along with all ‘people’ systems such as recruitment, promotions, pay grading and performance management. Remember, if you are trying to introduce new practices, training & development will have to be considered. If people are learning new ways of thinking, new attitudes and new skills, they must have access to whatever training & development is required.

4. Modelling

There will be a lot of people in the organisation who will not be able to appreciate the vision that is held. The new way of thinking and behaving may be so different from what is ‘normal’ to them that they have to see what it looks like before they can imagine themselves doing it. Identify champions and positive role models that others can copy in terms of behaviour and attitudes; others with whom they can identify and from whom they can learn.

It is also important that people can make mistakes and learn from them. Feedback must be in line with the culture you wish to foster – if you say one thing and do another, then you might as well give up now!

5. Involving

When you want the culture to change you have to put yourself into the shoes of the people who need to change. Keep all employees involved by informing them about the process and involve them wherever possible to ensure commitment and success.

People must be able to talk about their frustrations, difficulties and challenges with others who are experiencing similar difficulties. Set up support forums so that problems connected with the new behaviours can be compared and discussed. This way, people can support each other and jointly learn new ways of dealing with the difficulties. 

Beware of the common trap of making one group or person the owner of cultural change. This approach is doomed to failure because it generally leads to people becoming detached from cultural issues and neglecting their responsibilities.

And remember, no one ever changed the culture by simply drawing up plans, listing required behaviours and announcing them with a big fanfare. New norms and new assumptions need to be identified and gently nudged using the power held within peer groups because sustained cultural changes are embedded this way.

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