How to keep the fire of change burning brightly
When an organisation wishes to change its culture, it can’t simply pull the trigger on the starting gun and expect all of its employees to race to the finish line. As John Kotter, the world-renowned organisational change expert describes, implementing cultural change is like tending a fire. You can’t throw a match and walk away. A fire must be watched and nurtured through changing conditions to ensure it will grow into a source of light and energy.
In this article, you’ll learn the key factors to follow to keep the fire burning when implementing cultural change.
Why implementing cultural change is unavoidable
An organisation’s culture is best summed up as ‘the way things are done around here’. Much of this is unstated, and yet fully understood by all employees. It dictates every facet of an employee’s life in the workplace.
Vision and mission statements may be prominently displayed in the main lobby, but it is hidden culture that is adhered to that is less obvious. Employees know not to park in certain spaces in the company car park. They know what the dress-code is at work. They understand how to talk to colleagues and the nature that those conversations can take, and wear ‘uniforms’ appropriate to their roles and positions.
Some of the unwritten culture can be destructive. It obstructs organisational change by acting as a barrier to change, creating resistance in individuals and teams who are used to doing things ‘the way they are done around here’. Implementing cultural change is therefore essential to the success of organisational change. Therefore, it is unavoidable.
(Read our articles “Culture, not technology, is the driver of food safety” and “Should we disconnect organisational change and technology?” for more insight.)
The first step when implementing cultural change
The first step when implementing cultural change is for senior management to accept that it must change, and commit to it. In organisations in which change is not sponsored at the highest level, the change effort is more or less guaranteed to fail.
Implementing cultural change is uncomfortable for most. It means reworking the organisational narrative from the top down, with senior executives exampling the expected behaviours of the new culture.
Understand where you are now and where you want to be
When planning any journey, the course cannot be plotted without knowing where you are starting from and your destination.
When implementing cultural change, leaders need to understand the current culture. This means having conversations with all stakeholders – internal and external – to discover the hidden cultural biases that dictate current behaviours. Some of what is heard may be difficult to accept, but these difficult conversations are needed to fully understand the size of the task ahead.
Opportunities to uncover current culture include surveys and questionnaires, town hall meetings, one-to-ones, team meetings, etc.
Engaging employees in implementing cultural change in this way allows them to feel part of the solution and not as the problem. It gives them the opportunity to have their say, and the organisation the opportunity to refine the process of change toward a collective vision. This vision becomes the destination when implementing cultural change. It is the oxygen that fuels the fire of change, with the future vision the guiding light encompassed in all organisational communications.
Creating a sense of urgency
To be receptive to change, stakeholders must believe that the need to change is urgent. Implementing cultural change is difficult. When it is accompanied by complacency, it is almost impossible. The change narrative must set this urgency, without making ‘we do this or die’ threats that could risk the most talented people seeking new positions elsewhere.
By identifying and sharing threats and opportunities, encouraging open and honest conversation, and creating a two-way dialogue between change leaders and stakeholders, the organisational narrative can develop the needed sense of urgency.
Poor process inhibits success of cultural change
Where the processes of recruitment, training, promotion and compensation do not support the new culture, the conflict is likely to create an impenetrable barrier to change. To ensure such processes support the new culture, they should ensure:
- New recruits are a good cultural fit
- Training emphasises the new behaviours expected
- Promotions align with the new culture
- Compensation rewards those exhibiting new cultural behaviours
Tend the fire of cultural change by creating an engaging narrative
When implementing cultural change, stakeholders must be engaged with the future vision. Conversations and narratives must be developed to provide the oxygen that the fire of change needs to remain burning. By creating an engaging narrative to drive the cultural shift needed, an organisation is more likely to experience successful change and benefit from the objectives of its change initiative.
Is your communication environment set for implementing cultural change, and prepared to drive the organisation to its intended destination?
Get in touch with The Big Picture People today, to find out how our Learning Map could help you when implementing cultural change needed to engage your employees in achieving your future vision.