Is changing organisational culture the key to sustainable change success?

9 January, 2019
Is changing organisational culture the key to sustainable change success

Why change leaders should put people before process

When analysing change management over the last 50 years, in many respects very little has changed. The failure rate of change projects has hardly moved – according to McKinsey & Company it remains at 70% – despite the growth of the change management industry. Perhaps it is this industry that is partially to blame – the majority of change management consultancies focus on linear change management models. The key to leading successful change may instead lie in changing organisational culture.


Change is the same today, but different

Since Warren Bennis assessed change as being the “biggest story in the world today” back in 1968 in his book ‘Organization Development: Its Nature, Origins, and Prospects’, much remains the same. Bennis wrote of change being predicated by factors such as a change in the nature, location, and availability of jobs, changing relationships between workers and jobs, changing generations, and the size and movement of people. Add the spice of technological advances, social media, and new social cultural bias, and Bennis could have written his book today.

The need for change, then, has always been constant. The key difference is the rate of change. It is lightyears faster than half a century ago – thanks in large part to the advances in technology. In the early 1990s, who would have been able to describe the gig economy?


Why changing organisational culture unlocks sustainable change

Changing organisational culture is often overlooked by change management. The focus is on process, and models based upon logic and analysis. This gives managers an illusion of control. However, when asking people to change the way they do things, organisations are actually asking them to change the way they think and feel. Designing change management on process ignores these human factors.

In its research, McKinsey & Company says, “70% of change programmes fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support. We also know that when people are truly invested in change it is 30% more likely to stick.

With a focus on process, traditional change management does little to manage the emotional effects caused by change projects. Using a prescribed change management process, change leaders naturally ignore organisational culture. If changing organisational culture can create a mindset of engagement with change, it follows that change leaders should shift focus from process to the human element – and benefit from a 30% increased likelihood of making sustainable change.


The challenge of changing organisational culture

The harsh reality is that changing organisational culture is not easy. When an organisation initiates change, it is often asking people to learn new things. Soon after, that organisation is just as likely to ask its people to unlearn those things and adapt to a new process or system. This continual rapid change means that teams and individuals need to have a ‘change mindset’. They must be receptive to change.

This first presents a challenge to an organisation’s leaders. Their own unconscious bias may steer them away from changing organisational culture. This may manifest itself in behaviours that inhibit change, including:

  • Rewarding the behaviours that run contrary to those required
  • Over-planning, possibly caused by an anti-risk culture, leading to change being defunct before it is put into action
  • A failure to communicate new values, beliefs and mission – never underestimate the negative impact of poor communication
  • Failing to make the change personal by storytelling and embedding the challenges of remaining at status quo and the opportunities created by change


Give your organisation the power to change

Sustainable change is driven by people, not process. Therefore, changing organisational culture is central to success in change projects. When organisations learn to prioritise people over process in change initiatives, and give their leaders the tools to enable focus on creating desired organisational culture organically, they will unlock the real potential of their greatest resource: their people.

Only when changing organisational culture to a change mindset can organisations begin to benefit from formal change management models. Then, perhaps, that 70% change project failure rate will finally start to come down.


Want to know more?

Get in touch with The Big Picture People today to discuss how our Learning Map methodology could help your organisation embed the organisational culture that will sustain transformational change in your company.

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