Culture Change Series #3: How do you go about changing organisational culture?

In previous blogs in our Culture Series we’ve looked at five reasons why organisations should pay more attention to culture during change initiatives, and a ‘four lever’ model by which we can understand and work with culture – suggesting that this may be a more useful approach than seeking a precise definition of organisational culture. In this blog we’ll highlight five lessons we’ve learned about how you can work with these levers to effect a change in culture. You’ll find that reading the previous blogs in the series will help you make sense of this one.

1. Work with your core values

First, really understand and then work with the existing core values. That sounds pretty obvious, but we’ve seen businesses trip themselves up on this. It’s not about previously published values, rather the real nature of the organisation, which is often not explicit.
For example, leaders may seek to drive cultural change towards greater agility through an emphasis on empowered individual decision making. We’ve seen this fail, however, because the existing values, working implicitly, favoured highly consensual behaviours. Ignoring this, rather than working with it (perhaps by focusing on ways of reaching consensus more rapidly and on breaking deadlock), was almost certainly bound to fail. So, be intentional about understanding the core values that are at play, unspoken, in the organisation.

2. Culture should be part of your corporate strategy

Next, while ignoring culture makes no sense (to us anyway), we find that treating it as an end in itself rarely works either. Cultural change initiatives seem to work best when culture strategy is understood as integral to broader corporate strategy, rather than something to be addressed in isolation.
In two different organisations recently, we’ve seen worthy culture change initiatives run into the sand because they weren’t sufficiently integrated into a broader strategic change purpose. Make sure everybody knows not just what culture change you’re seeking, but why that matters – link that to the organisation’s purpose too.

3. Accept that it’s going to take some time

Third, remember that cultures very, very rarely change overnight. It might be that business needs are exceptionally pressing, but that doesn’t mean that desired new values, artefacts and behaviours can be established in a matter of months. Nietzsche coined the phrase ‘a long obedience in the same direction’ – and that’s what’s needed for effective, embedded culture change that’s real. So, plan culture change interventions over two years and more; think about different and evolving themes and campaigns, so that the four levers are given space to support each other over extended periods.

4. Culture change needs to be tackled top-down, bottom-up and middle-out

Fourth, be creative, drawing on all levels of the organisation. We’ve seen the power and enormous impact when front-line peers are harnessed across a range of media – certainly more than top down pronouncements alone. Where appropriate, gamifying progress in behaviours and artefacts can drive a virtuous circle of ideas and changes. Be bold: courageous leaders and leadership teams, visibly calling themselves out and highlighting their own behavioural change will have real impact – especially when aligned changes in artefacts accompany this. Quick wins can often flow from this.

5. Keep it all joined up

Don’t expect that if you do a wonderful values campaign and ignore behaviours anything much will change. Don’t think that modelling different behaviours will shift the culture as a whole if artefacts such as recognition systems and process remain the same. And, realise that if you change artefacts without describing the values that you’re looking to embody, then all that you’ll do is confuse people. Work with all four levers, together, creatively, over time.

 

Clearly, changing culture is challenging. We’d love to hear how you react to these five principles – and what other lessons you’d highlight. Let us know!

 

We frequently post our thoughts, ideas and tips on: change management, learning and communications, PMO/CMO, employee engagement and culture.

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Culture Change Series #2: What is organisational culture, and why does it matter?

In the previous blog in this series we highlighted five reasons why organisations should pay more attention to culture in change initiatives.  But what do we actually mean by culture – or, perhaps more usefully, how can we think about culture in a way that lets us address it?

So, culture – what is it?

Frankly, we’ve yet to come across a definition we really like.  Some just plainly don’t seem to work: for example, ‘the set of processes in an organization that affects the total motivation of its people’.  Are there some processes that don’t affect motivation one way or the other?  Is culture really reducible to processes – so that identical processes would drive identical cultures in different organisations?  We don’t think so.

Other definitions seem to get closer: ‘Culture is the organization’s immune system’ and ‘Culture is how organizations ‘do things’’ say Michael Watkins and Robbie Katanga respectively.  The idea of toxic organisational culture as an auto-immune disease is attractive, but cultural immunologies and immunologists seem few and far between.  And, what are the metrics for ‘how’ organisations ‘do things’: does that actually come down to fine levels of ‘what’ organisations do, in any case?

The quest for a definition that satisfies ultimately seems misguided. At Afiniti we agree that culture is something to do with the ‘feel’ of an organisation, underpinning the motivations of its people and ultimately the performance of the business. We concluded that it was more important to know how to ‘shift’ a particular culture than to be able to define organisational culture per se.  We looked around for models, and in Edgar Schien’s work, and in its application by other organisations, we found something that resonated and offered real potential as an actionable framework.

In summary, we’re working with a framework of four interacting levers:

Afiniti 4 levers of organisational culture

  • Core values: these are the mostly unconscious, taken-for-granted beliefs and assumptions at the heart of the organisation’s culture.
  • Promoted values: in contrast, these are the values an organisation claims to hold or temporarily promotes, but which have not yet truly become a part of its culture. We think of these as descriptions of how the organisation wants to be.
  • Artefacts: these are what we can observe – including organisational structures, processes and systems, office layout, dress codes, status symbols, rewards and recognition. As such, artefacts make a culture tangible.
  • Behaviours: these are not as visible as artefacts, but nevertheless are observable. As ‘the way we do things around here’, they both demonstrate and re-inforce an organisation’s culture.  When modelled by leaders and other influencers they can establish new norms.

 

The little things leaders do have far more impact than the big things they say.

 

The four ‘levers’ need to work together

Core values can develop and change slowly over time, but if promoted values are in serious conflict with them, a culture change initiative will almost certainly run into the sand.  If values are promoted in isolation of artefacts and behaviours they will become ‘shelfware’.  Changes to artefacts or behaviours with no aligned and explanatory promoted values can seem random and will confuse.  And if visible behaviours (especially leadership behaviours at all levels) don’t change to align with promoted values, then nobody will take the intended change seriously.  One of our mantras is that the little things leaders do have far more impact than the big things they say.

The advice we give to our clients is that to shift a culture means working with all four levers: recognising core values, and integrating activity involving the other three.

The final blog in this series will unpack some of the ‘how’ of working with the levers. 

As ever, we’d love to hear from you with your thoughts and experiences around the topics covered here, so send us a comment or an email – we’re always ready to talk ‘business change’!

 

We frequently post our thoughts, ideas and tips on: change management, learning and communications, PMO/CMO, employee engagement and culture.

Subscribe here to start receiving a monthly roundup email from our Insights blog.

February Business Change Digest

In this edition:

SPOTLIGHT

What is organisational culture, and why does it matter?

AFINITI NEWS

We’ve been ranked among the UK’s leading management consultants by the FT.

AFINITI CULTURE CHANGE SPRING EVENT

Following the success of our autumn event we’re re-running our culture change event in April.

AFINITI INSIGHTS

The latest from the Afiniti Insights Blog.

 

Spotlight by Nick Smith

What is organisational Culture, and why does it matter? The second in our three-part blog series on culture change.

In the previous blog in this series we highlighted five reasons why organisations should pay more attention to culture in change initiatives.  But what do we actually mean by culture – or, perhaps more usefully, how can we think about culture in a way that lets us address it?

So, culture – what is it?

Frankly, we’ve yet to come across a definition we really like.  Some just plainly don’t seem to work: for example, ‘the set of processes in an organization that affects the total motivation of its people’.  Are there some processes that don’t affect motivation one way or the other?  Is culture really reducible to processes – so that identical processes would drive identical cultures in different organisations?  We don’t think so.

Other definitions seem to get closer: ‘Culture is the organization’s immune system’ and ‘Culture is how organizations ‘do things’’ say Michael Watkins and Robbie Katanga respectively.  The idea of toxic organisational culture as an auto-immune disease is attractive, but cultural immunologies and immunologists seem few and far between.  And, what are the metrics for ‘how’ organisations ‘do things’: does that actually come down to fine levels of ‘what’ organisations do, in any case?

The quest for a definition that satisfies ultimately seems misguided. At Afiniti we agree that culture is something to do with the ‘feel’ of an organisation, underpinning the motivations of its people and ultimately the performance of the business. We concluded that it was more important to know how to ‘shift’ a particular culture than to be able to define organisational culture per se.  We looked around for models, and in Edgar Schien’s work, and in its application by other organisations, we found something that resonated and offered real potential as an actionable framework.

In summary, we’re working with a framework of four interacting levers:

Afiniti 4 levers of organisational culture

  • Core values: these are the mostly unconscious, taken-for-granted beliefs and assumptions at the heart of the organisation’s culture.
  • Promoted values: in contrast, these are the values an organisation claims to hold or temporarily promotes, but which have not yet truly become a part of its culture. We think of these as descriptions of how the organisation wants to be.
  • Artefacts: these are what we can observe – including organisational structures, processes and systems, office layout, dress codes, status symbols, rewards and recognition. As such, artefacts make a culture tangible.
  • Behaviours: these are not as visible as artefacts, but nevertheless are observable. As ‘the way we do things around here’, they both demonstrate and re-inforce an organisation’s culture.  When modelled by leaders and other influencers they can establish new norms.

 

The little things leaders do have far more impact than the big things they say.

 

The four ‘levers’ need to work together

Core values can develop and change slowly over time, but if promoted values are in serious conflict with them, a culture change initiative will almost certainly run into the sand.  If values are promoted in isolation of artefacts and behaviours they will become ‘shelfware’.  Changes to artefacts or behaviours with no aligned and explanatory promoted values can seem random and will confuse.  And if visible behaviours (especially leadership behaviours at all levels) don’t change to align with promoted values, then nobody will take the intended change seriously.  One of our mantras is that the little things leaders do have far more impact than the big things they say.

The advice we give to our clients is that to shift a culture means working with all four levers: recognising core values, and integrating activity involving the other three.

The final blog in this series will unpack some of the ‘how’ of working with the levers. 

As ever, we’d love to hear from you with your thoughts and experiences around the topics covered here, so send us a comment or an email – we’re always ready to talk ‘business change’!

 

Afiniti News

In the recent, inaugural, UK’s Leading Management Consultants 2018 report, published by Statista in partnership with the Financial Times, Afiniti has been ranked among the best in the UK.

Read the full article

 

Afiniti Culture Change Spring Event

Following the success of our culture change event  which we held last November in London, we’ll be re-running the event on Thursday 26 April.

The event, Does Culture Matter? And, do our organisational cultures enable or constrain business success? will explore and debate these critical questions in a forum where delegates can share their own experiences with like minded professionals while deepening their understanding of how to develop the culture their organisations want and need.

To register your interest for the event and for more information please click here

 

The latest from Afiniti insights blog


compelling communications

 

Compelling communications – the Key to Successful Business Change

 

birds

 

Culture Change Series: 5 Reasons Why Culture is Integral to Business Change

 

 

Change Management to Help You Win The Battle Against Shadow IT

 

 

 

Subscribe here to receive a monthly insights roundup and the quarterly Business Change Digest from the experts at Afiniti

Culture Change Series #1: Five reasons why culture is integral to business change

How many change programmes integrate work on organisational culture?  We increasingly think ‘not enough’.

There are some obvious reasons why culture is a bit of a Cinderella at the Change Management ball.  It can be tricky to understand and work with; it’s seen as more than a little intangible; and its reach is far wider than that of most change programmes.  Beyond that, cultures do not often change quickly – change programmes come and go while cultures persist or change slowly.  But if Afiniti’s recent Culture Change event is anything to go by, those involved in leading change are increasingly recognising the importance of culture.  With bookings for our event coming in fast, followed by a waiting list of eager participants, we knew we were dealing with a topic of real concern.

So, why should organisations pay more attention to culture? Afiniti’s experience suggests there are at least five reasons.

1. The link between culture and performance

First, there are swathes of evidence that link organisational (and functional, and team) culture to performance.  Simple searches throw up research suggesting, for example:

  • Culture, by linking to our motivations – why we work – determines how well we work
  • Culture is a powerful route to sustainable competitive advantage because it’s difficult to copy
  • Surveys suggest the majority of managers and leaders see culture as more important than strategy or operating model.

2. Culture as an integral element of business strategy

Second, culture is (or really ought to be) an integral element of strategy.  It’s 30 years since Henry Mintzberg highlighted ‘Perspective’ – ‘an ingrained way of perceiving the world’ – as an important way of thinking about strategy, tying it to culture and collective mind (individuals united by common thinking and / or behaviour).  And if culture is integral to strategy, how can it not be taken into account by change managers?

3. Cultures are naturally fluid and change over time

Third, organisational cultures change and will continue to change over time whether or not leaders and change managers are intentional about it.  We don’t need to be experts in generational theory to recognise that as boomers leave the workplace in large numbers and Generations X, Y and Z reshape organisations, so working cultures will change with radically different expectations, priorities and attitudes to technology.  The question facing change leaders is how their actions will interact with ongoing cultural change: will change programmes merely be impacted by, or will they play a role in shaping cultures that are changing anyway.

4. Culture can affect readiness and capability for change

Fourth, Afiniti’s own work identified culture as one of six key change readiness ‘levers’.  We’ve found that some cultures are more ‘change-ready’ than others, more able and willing to embrace change.  We know that where organisations are more ‘change-ready’ across all six levers, of which culture is one, then change is more likely to land and is more likely to stick and deliver the benefits sought.  But, so often understanding of cultural readiness for change is no more than impressionistic – with little – if any, analysis, let alone structured responses to shape and evolve culture to become more change-ready over time. Learn more about your organisation’s capability and readiness for change by taking our Change Readiness Assessment.

5. It is possible to demystify culture

Finally, culture can matter in change programmes, to business and change leaders, because it doesn’t have to be a given.  There are ways of demystifying culture – making it more tangible, in order to plan and effect culture changes that work.  At our recent event we explored some of these models and approaches and a number of participants commented on how they ‘demystified’ culture and the ways in which it might be changed.  And if we can understand and shift something that impacts not just on the success of our change programmes but contributes to overall business performance, then why wouldn’t we be intentional about it?

This is the first of three blogs.  In the remaining two we’ll explore what we mean by culture – offering ways of thinking about and working with it – and flowing from that some ways to effect cultural change.  In the meantime, what do you think about the role that culture plays in change initiatives?  Have you worked with it?  Let us know what you think.

If you’re thinking about cyber security, you should also think about behaviour change

It’s no longer an option to view cyber attacks as something that happens to someone else, some other organisation, or just a technical issue.  It’s now standard practice for all large organisations to have measures in place to protect themselves and their assets, and these measures often include an element of culture and behaviour change .

I’ve recently been involved in a project where I helped a client change the way their workforce viewed cyber security and embed a set of new highly-secure behaviours.

The project has been very successful and I’ve even found my own behaviour changing as a result – I’ve signed up for a password manager and my laptop is now a veritable fort knox!

So what do we mean by cyber security?

In its simplest terms, cyber security is the protection of an individual’s or organisation’s cyber assets.

To protect cyber assets you need to worry about physical security as well as cyber security.  This is where you need to think about the culture and behaviours of the organisation – there’s no point having great firewalls in place, if you leave the door to your server room open!

What is a cyber threat?

There are a number of different types of cyber threat, including state-sponsored attacks, insider threats, cybercrime, cyberterrorism, physical threats (staff members leaving doors or computers unlocked) and ‘hacktivism’ (hacking a system for social or political gain). Each company will have a different profile in terms of which of these threats are the most probable and how serious the consequences of a breach could be.

How does an organisation protect itself against cyber attack?

If people don’t understand, endorse and actively support cyber security consistently throughout an organisation, it’s just a matter of time before the best of systems will be compromised.

As change professionals, the area we add value is in helping our clients identify and embed the behaviours that will support the other measures (such as technological protection) they have in place. This isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ – if people don’t understand, endorse and actively support cyber security consistently throughout an organisation, it’s just a matter of time before the best of systems will be compromised.

Affecting large-scale behavioural change

Let’s be clear about one thing: change is hard! I get uncomfortable changing my brand of toothpaste. So effecting meaningful, lasting change can’t just be a top-down approach.  For behaviours to adapt, and for change to be truly adopted, all affected staff need to take ownership and understand the importance of the change.

Here are some key methods and approaches we use at Afiniti to help our clients ensure long-term and sustainable behavioural change is achieved across the whole organisation.

1.       Build sustainable toolkits and communications

This can’t be a one-off short-burst campaign, it needs to be rolled out over a period of time for the desired behaviours to become embedded as second nature.

To help maintain a high level of interest throughout the project, try a mix of communication styles from hard-hitting and informative to softer, more subliminal messaging.

And lastly, by using a blend of channels and methods, plus appropriate language and tone, you can ensure your key messages reach all intended audience groups.

2.       Co-create and utilise real people to generate awareness and validate the programme

Take the time to understand people’s opinions and insights into their areas of work, and then involve them in the project planning and execution. This way you’ll not only gain a more rounded understanding of the business needs, but people will feel invested in the project from the beginning.

Once people feel on board and understand the importance of the changes, work with them to create content such as short videos and workshops.  This type of user-generated content can really help with marketing to external audience groups, so why not reap the benefit for your internal communications efforts too?  It’s often cheaper, more authentic and more trusted by internal audiences.

Check out our vBlog of top tips for creating user-generated content

3.       Use creative and eye-catching visual assets

As they say ‘an image can convey a thousand words’ and this is certainly true when you’re trying to present a set of important key messages. Trying to condense a long white paper into a punchy animation or presentation can be a difficult thing to do, but it also forces you to concentrate on the things that really matter and helps to bring ideas and concepts to life.

4.       Create a security champions network

By giving tools and training to a group of security champions, you can create a community which supports the wider workforce on a day-to-day basis.  The champions can share experiences, best practice and be a point of call for questions, ideas and concerns. It also really helps to see respected colleagues modelling the desired behaviours.

Read our article on Making change stick by getting the whole team on board

It’s important to bear in mind that changing behaviours and mindsets doesn’t happen overnight, these things take time to embed. The tools and approaches above will help you maintain momentum and create the emotional engagement you need to embed the desired ways-of-working on a permanent basis.

If you have any interesting insights, or experiences of behaviour change related to cyber security, we’d be interested in hearing from you, so leave us a comment.

Agility – moving beyond the buzzword

Why adopt an agile mindset?

A lot of our clients appreciate the benefits of adopting an agile mindset, as well as agile working practices.  And this makes a great deal of sense, after all, we’re living in an age of major business disruption and innovation.  Modern business must deal with a plethora of challenges, from regulation, compliance and new technologies, to the economy and exploitation of big data.  Most of these challenges can also represent opportunities, if you’re in the right shape to take advantage of them.

This led me to think about how organisations message around agility (agility in terms of organisational culture and mindset, not Agile Project Management – although these two concepts are most definitely not mutually exclusive), and how they ensure everyone is on the same page with regard to what it actually means to be agile.  Agility can often be seen as an abstract concept that is not grounded in the operational reality of an organisation; I often hear conversations around agility along the lines of, ‘but what does it really mean for us?’ Or ‘agility means speed over quality’.

 What does agile really mean for an organisation and its people?

Agility does not mean unplanned or risky, quite the opposite in fact. The goal is to be nimble and flexible – ready to pounce on opportunities, or to change course to avoid inevitable problems. To be agile, an organisation and the people within it must have a clear goal in mind with waypoints to check if the plan is on target.

Here are five principles to help you convey what agility really means in the context of your organisation:

  • Stability – to be agile and adaptive the organisation and its processes must be stable. That is stability in the sense of the organisation’s propensity for flexibility, reliability and resilience.  This is where stability and predictability should be seen as enablers for agility – many large organisations have these attributes – use them to your advantage.
  • Flexibility – this is the ability to course-correct mid project/initiative or in more extreme cases to change direction entirely.  This requires people within the organisation to accept that, ‘what was right then may not be right now’.  This is where the real mindset and behaviour change comes in, so take time get the right message across.
  • Speed – a primary benefit of agility is the speed with which things happen, while maintaining the quality of output.  This could be getting a new drug to patients, taking advantage of an emerging technology or an untapped market opportunity.  This is an output of an agile organisation, not a personal trait to ‘do things fast’.  It comes from a stable base and flexibility of mindset.
  • Culture – think about the culture of your organisation.  How do the behaviours and accepted norms fit to the principles of agility?  Tune in to those cultural aspects that align with agility and think carefully about how to message around those that may be in conflict.  This is not insurmountable and can be achieved by following a process to find the answer which is right for your organisation.
  • Get creative – we know that the best messages are ‘sticky’ in that that they are easily communicated, get re-used and tell a story.   A great way of achieving this is to represent your agile story visually.  With clear and concise thinking, which is represented with a visual identity, you will get a better spread of awareness and desire to engage with these new agile principles.  Check out our blog post on The Impact of Storytelling on Change Programmes.

 

In summary, the only way an organisation can adopt an agile mindset is when all of its people truly understand the principles of agile, the advantages to the business and the benefits to them as individuals.

 

If you have any further ideas on what agile means to you or your business, or experiences of how you or your organisation adopted an agile mindset, then get in touch via the comments below.

How does change management fit with project management?

There is, understandably, some confusion about how change management activities sit alongside project management.

After all, project management provides for comms and learning, so what’s the need for additional change management?
Looking at the success rate of projects, we can see there is great additional need for a structured approach to managing the people aspect of change.

Working at portfolio level – transformational change

This looks at projects from a portfolio, organisational perspective. If your organisation is faced with complex transformation, involving multiple projects, typical project management activities around comms and learning will not be enough to steer the organisation’s people towards a desired future state – efforts at the project level will simply be too fragmented. Change management allows for a portfolio top-down view of the way in which a business’s people will move from the present state to a future desired state.

Designing change with people in mind

At the beginning, project management includes a focus on initial stakeholder analysis, mapping and communications planning. However, change management goes further to plot the impact of the change/s on the organisation and teams.

This is the important part, without the buy-in and engagement of the organisation’s people, the project is likely to encounter negativity and push-back, with project managers spending precious time fighting fires and rescuing relationships.

The change management team will get to grips with the culture and beliefs of the different teams involved, understanding that potentially, each of these groups have their own unique attributes and preferences.  Feedback will be gathered directly from people on how the proposed changes could affect them, and how their day-to-day working may be impacted.

Building this initial picture and understanding of the organisation’s teams is the first step in a structured approach to the people aspect of change. Next the change management team will carry out impact analysis, change readiness assessment, and initial stakeholder research in order to outline a strategy to manage resistance and fulfil communication and engagement roles.

Factoring people in at the beginning means that barriers to adoption can be clearly identified and proactively dealt with.

Adding depth to the delivery of change to people

Articulating the reasons for the change, from a people and business perspective, comes directly from having the above people-focused approach to planning and strategy. A clearer vision comes from conveying the wider context of change and what that will mean for people. The story of why the change is happening is given a broader strategic level context.

From that it is easier to produce the blueprint for a visual identity, and a set of messages that create impact for teams and individuals. Inspiring people with a story, the context for the change and what it will mean for them are all made possible by the more structured people-focused planning and strategy which is afforded by change management.

Further, change management activities create a network of local support during the project delivery. Change champions are equipped to communicate and endorse the change. Special attention is given to line managers, sponsors and this change network to enable them to fulfil the goal of not just pushing messages out, but receiving input and monitoring how the change is being received and adopted by people.

An IT manager may deliver change focusing on communicating the benefits and training people to use new technology or process. However, change management process takes this further. Feedback and response mechanisms are formalised and structured.  It provides coaching for senior leaders and sponsors on how to identify the root causes of resistance and how to engage and manage resistance when it happens.

Read our article on managing resistance to change.

Training becomes another opportunity to engage with people and obtain their buy-in and genuine participation. Change management activities relating to training focus on how it can be made more interactive, designed for feedback, and feature the organisation’s people in the delivery – all with the core messaging throughout.

Post implementation we find that change management’s people focus means that people are rewarded and acknowledged for their adoption of the new, reinforcing the change after ‘go-live’. Feedback from people improves process and ensures the changes adapt to meet their original goals.

The Social Network: Discovering informal change leaders

When undertaking a change project, whether it be technological or process based, we always look to build a change network to act as champions for the cause throughout the organisation.

The obvious choices for these roles are usually senior leaders, line managers or team leaders, however there is an untapped resource hidden in the formal organisational structure.

Formal business leaders are the natural choice to be change champions but what about the influencers within teams, departments or business units? These types of people tend to be (but not always) the more experienced in the company, typically social within groups and well respected and trusted amongst their peers.

If you could identify and recruit these people to be your change champions not only would you be easing the resistance to change but you’ll be able to gain inside knowledge as to what the real issues are the need addressing.

It may sound next to impossible to find out who the informal influencers are in an organisation but the concept of Social Network Analysis (SNA) makes it a lot easier. SNA is essentially the analysis of informal and social connections between employees and when mapped out looks more like a web of contacts than a formal organisational structure.

It is a true snapshot how a group of people are interconnected and how they share information, and you may be surprised to find out that the influencers aren’t always in a management position.

Carrying out a SNA is a great diagnostic tool to understand the working environment in which you are implementing change but that is only half the battle. Once you’ve identified the key people it’s a matter of taking them from informal influencers into change leaders. A few things to consider when gaining buy-in from this group:

  1. Really help them understand the cause; create belief that this is the best way forward: Sometimes this will be met with resistance, just remember to listen to their concerns and perhaps there may be points that you could act on. Involving the change leader in this will likely lessen the reluctance.
  1. Engage with and involve them on a consistent basis: There is no point in recruiting these influential employees if you don’t nurture the relationship and keep them in the loop. They need to be equipped with the right tools and know that their opinion matters.
  1. Not all influencers will make good change leaders: Keep in mind that although they may have some pull in an informal network, that person may not be suitable to be a change leader. They may not have the willingness to do the extra work or may not be able to see the benefit of the change.

Identifying change leaders through SNA is a great tool to use to get under the hood of an organisation and although this method has been around for decades in an anthropological way, it will prove to be revolutionary in the corporate arena as it can provide insight into the root cause of issues and the informal connections that happen behind the scenes just waiting to be leveraged.

Person-Centred Business Change

How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?  Apparently just one, but the bulb must want to change.  The old ones are the best – but maybe there’s something here for us in Business Change.

The Person-Centred approach to therapy was developed by Carl Rogers.  Crudely, at the heart of his thinking lies the belief that if people feel secure – safe and valued – they’re more likely to be able to embrace change, and effect it for themselves.  Intuitively, this makes sense, and evidence over decades now can be produced to support the contention.  Rogers identified three ‘core conditions’ that would characterise the attitude of the therapist to the client in effective working: congruence (being genuine); empathy (a deep understanding of what the client is feeling); and an unconditional positive regard for the client (acceptance).

Are there parallels for us as business change practitioners?  Seems to me there are quite a few.

First, and not least, like Person-Centred therapists we do well when we view those facing change as clients, not patients – equals in the relationship.  And, like the corny joke, if they don’t want to embrace change we know that change initiatives are likely to be far less effective than we need them to be.

The core conditions seem to apply as well.  When those leading change programmes are not genuine, when staying on message becomes spin, then those impacted by those programmes invariably sniff that out – and resistance to change grows.  So, congruence matters, and that’s probably pretty well understood.

At Afiniti, we’ve always stressed the need for empathy a deep understanding of those impacted by change – taking the time to understand their current context in depth, learning about what they do, and how they think and feel about it, and about the prospect of change.  We think we pay more attention to this empathetic understanding than many, but its importance really shouldn’t be news to anyone.

What then about unconditional positive regard?  The Person-Centred model wouldn’t require us to approve of every action that those impacted by change take, but it would require us to approve of them.  So, how do we really think about those impacted by change?  As a problem to be solved, or as partners?  As individuals with bad attitude, or as people with entirely legitimate concerns and anxieties?  As people of intrinsic value, or as resources to be deployed at will?  Of the three core conditions this one seems the hardest, the one that Change Initiatives are most likely to stumble over.

How many change leaders does it take to change an organisation?  Perhaps one, but maybe it’s not just the organisation that needs to want to change.

Why do we cringe at corporate values?

Ask someone to recite their organisation’s values and the chances are they’ll look embarrassed. They might say “integrity” or “trust,” using a comedy boardroom voice to show they don’t really buy into it all.

But corporate values are shown to work, providing guiding principles for employees and reassurance for customers.*

So is it that people don’t want to be told what they stand for, or is there just something about the word ‘corporate’ that curdles conversation? Maybe the language used to describe corporate values is often too clichéd or full of jargon.

As part of a study, I talked to frontline staff at a large infrastructure client. They shrugged when I asked about their corporate values and I wasn’t too surprised. More than one guy said “Oh. Don’t we have them on our coffee mugs?…” and many said they didn’t see the point of “a load of words” at all.

But there’s a twist, and it came when the same people went on to say what they liked about their organisation. They spoke passionately about working together, how they respect each other’s knowledge and, heart-warmingly, how proud they feel about looking after the British public each day. They were showcasing their corporate values, without realising it.

Behind a business’ own definition of its corporate values is a set of real beliefs, held by employees about their organisation’s identity and their place within it. If corporate values represent the real culture and identity of an organisation, there should be nothing to cringe at.

A successful communications strategy will use the depth given by employee engagement and insights into corporate values, to build a set of meaningful messages around business change.

Do your colleagues know their corporate values and do they care? Maybe the discomfort lies not in the values but the clichéd choice of words used to describe them – are there fresher alternatives to words like ‘Integrity’ or ‘Commitment’? We’d love to hear your feedback.

*Creative communications agency Radley Yeldar conducted research across FTSE100 companies and found 75% of them have corporate values which they publicly state

 

Further resources 

Change Readiness Assessment

Internal Communications Channel guide