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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.

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

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.

Afiniti Profile: Nick Smith, Business Change Director

With over 30 years’ consulting and industry experience under his belt, there’s much to learn from Nick Smith, Business Change Director at Afiniti, so we sat down for a chat and I asked Nick some questions about his career to date.

How did you get into consulting?

“I got into consulting in 1985 – a very long time ago! Before consulting I worked for a major IT supplier in a pretty focused role. I felt I wanted a role which would stretch me in areas that I really enjoyed, such as problem solving and solution building, and consultancy gave me the opportunity to do just that.

“I’ve worked in a range of different consulting settings over the years, from the ‘Big Four’ to smaller niche firms, and I’ve been a Business Change Director with Afiniti for five years now. I’ve also had breaks from consulting where I’ve gone back to industry, as I believe that part of being a good consultant comes from experience of working on the other side – spending time experiencing first-hand the operational and strategic challenges and opportunities that our clients face.”

Which project most stands out to you and why?

“My first major consulting project, around 30 years ago was with an IT vendor looking to transform their sales and marketing approach from being product-based to a more consultative way of working.

“The Marketing lead chose not to target his spend on promotion, but recognised the importance of investing in the people aspect of change. As such, we planned and delivered three-day change workshops to over 300 marketing and sales professionals. Now this was a really innovative way of thinking back then, and it taught me a really important lesson: to truly embed change and make it stick, you need to take people on the change journey – to merely change the systems and processes really isn’t enough.

“Another important lesson I learned from this project was around collaboration and client centricity. The client engaged not just my organisation, but another two consultancies also. I found that the ability to collaborate and keep the client at the heart varied widely among the firms. What stood out for me as we collaborated was that being generous-spirited and open to working in different and / or new ways always yielded the best outcome not only for the client, but the consultancies too.”

What other important lessons have you learned over the years?

“I’m also persuaded that a client who stretches you in terms of your capability and who wants to learn with you, rather than looking to be dependent on you or constantly finding fault, is going to get a better outcome. And, on the flip side, any consultant who feels they need their client to be less smart than they are, or to completely depend on them is going to find themselves in trouble – you’re not going to innovate, grow together and form a true partnership that way.”

What do you see as the main challenges and opportunities for business in the coming years, and why is change management so important to these?

“For those of us working in business change and change management, culture becomes very important and equipping people to be ‘able’ to change and adapt becomes vital too.”

“I’d highlight a couple of factors in play at the moment which could impact across industries and sectors. First we’ve got Brexit creating great uncertainty, and second we’ve got a lot of people retiring and exiting the workforce with millennials coming in to take their place. Millennials have different expectations of the workplace, and the implicit contract between them and their employers will be much more fluid.

“If you put these together, then it’s really important to understand that what matters for organisations isn’t necessarily ‘what’ people are doing but ‘how’ they are able to do it. So a workforce that is able to reskill rapidly, displaying versatility and flexibility in order to respond to new situations seems to me to be more important than being good at any one thing. So, equipping people for change is absolutely fundamental. For those of us working in business change and change management, culture becomes very important and equipping people to be ‘able’ to change and adapt becomes vital too.”

What do you most enjoy about what you do?

“It’s certainly the client work that I enjoy most – seeing the client execute and deliver, and realise their business outcomes, knowing that we made a significant contribution to doing that – that’s what I find most exciting.”

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick delve into Nick’s career, if you’d like to learn more about Nick’s, and indeed Afiniti’s approach and experience of business change, then do get in touch!

 

We frequently post 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 blog and our Quarterly Business Change Digest, written by the change experts at Afiniti.

 

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

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.