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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.

Change management tips – building the user journey

You may have heard the term ‘change journey’ before.  This describes the phase that an organisation will go through in making complex organisational, process and behavioural change.

Why describe this as a journey?

Whatever happens within the organisation – technical changes, new operating models, new systems and ways of working, it’s unlikely to be a straightforward move from A to B.  Many things will occur during the timeframe that will affect the transition, meaning the pace of change and resistance to it will vary – and things can be pretty unpredictable.

So why not apply the same principle to the people experiencing the change?  For employees to successfully change the way they work, they need to be supported in many ways.  This could involve classroom or online learning, support from managers or peers, regular communications or opportunities to share ideas.  Whatever these tactics are, they will need to be many and varied to be successful, and they should be staggered over time; designed to continually engage without being overpowering.

People going through change are essentially going on a voyage of discovery, and to help them navigate it there are a number of principles that you can apply to ensure they reach the desired outcomes.

1. Set foundations

Clarify the need for change, and be open and honest about it.  This may involve sharing bad news or information which might make people feel uncomfortable about the present state of the nation, but this will help them come to terms about the need to do something differently.  This is best coming from the leaders of the organisation – seeing them being open and transparent about change can really help get them onboard.

The outcome here is a universal, company-wide understanding of the rationale for change.

2. Create a ‘pull’

Develop a curiosity among your employees.  Show them what the change might mean for them – and do it creatively.  Try animations or video to bring the new way of working to life, and enhance this with roadshows so people can share their thoughts, concerns or ideas.

The outcome here is that people become interested and want to know more.

3. Develop capability

Understand the skills that people will need to thrive.  Drip feed it through the organisation using innovative new ways of sharing information – theory is great, but bring it to life using real life scenarios.  Think about a variety of media such as animation, infographics, live presentations and role plays – it doesn’t always have to be elearning alone.

The outcome is that people are aware of what they need to do differently.

4. Reinforce learning

Be proactive in developing methods to support people’s learning experience.  A ‘one and done’ approach often doesn’t work.  They’ll need opportunities to interact with and ask questions of colleagues, leaders and those further ahead on their change journey.  This might include a team of people to support colleagues through transitionary stages with subject matter expertise.  People need to know they are being supported rather than left to their own devices.

The outcome is that people are not only aware of what they need to do differently, but have had the chance to demonstrate some of the new skills or behaviours and talk about it with colleagues.

5. Sustain for the future – reward

The change project will eventually come to a close, and that can often mean an end to the tactics and support referred to in this blog.  It doesn’t have to be though – work with team leaders to identify ways in which the required skills and behaviours are not only still mandated, but recognised and rewarded.  Team leaders hold the key and you will need to make it easy for them to continue to champion the change and make it part of the way they naturally operate.

 

Hope you find this useful.  Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss any of the tactics listed here, or share your ideas.

 

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

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

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.

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