Posts

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: 5 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.

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.