Five minutes on… creating a change culture

not about structures, but winning hearts and minds, read on:-

Companies which manage change successfully overwhelmingly share the view that their real challenge is not in revamping strategies, systems or structures, but in changing individual employees’ behaviour, and in creating an environment or ‘culture’ which is conducive to change itself. Corporate culture may be described as the ‘way we do things around here’, the ‘comfort zone’ of a company comprising its:

  • values
  • beliefs
  • behaviour

How strong these are depends on factors such as:

  • Leadership
    • employees quickly learn from leaders which behaviour is acceptable and rewarded
    • length of time with the firm
      • attitudes and behaviour patterns are more deep rooted in long-standing employees
      • interaction with colleagues
        • canteens, cigarette breaks etc are fertile ground for reinforcing compliance with the company culture

culture types
To be able to adapt to any form of change requires an innovative, responsive and flexible culture. Easy to say, tough to achieve in companies where the management approach has evolved from militaristic models of organisation. Deeply embedded culture types which block change are:

  • conventional culture
    • conservative, bureaucratic; employees are expected to conform, follow the rules
    • control culture
      • hierarchically controlled and un-participative; centralised decision-making leads employees to do only what they’re told
      • competitive culture
        • all about winning; employees are rewarded for working against not with each other

cultural clues

A structure for assessing a company’s culture:

  • visible artefacts/symbols
    • is the technology out of date or leading edge? how casual is the dress code? is the office layout open plan or rabbit hutches? what kind of company cars are they driving? Do managers eat in the staff canteen?
  • communications/language
    • are superiors and subordinates on first name terms? what is the level of humour – if any? is the corporate newsletter chatty with non work-related information or full of management-speak, sticking strictly to work issues?
    • routines/rituals
      • are meetings ad hoc or planned and structured? what does the company induction comprise? how lively, frequent, formal are company ‘bashes’?
      • control systems/incentives
        • is the emphasis on individual or group targets?
        • what quality controls are there? how is staff time monitored?
        • stories/myths
          • what constitutes a success story in the company’s eyes? how do people describe their work? what images are held of the leadership? what’s the company’s reputation?
          • power structure/hierarchy
          • what are the job titles? Where does accountability lie? How do employees react to different senior managers? What is the decision making process?
          • values/beliefs
            • What do employees understand the mission or purpose of the company to be? What are the company values? Are they apparent in staff behaviour? Which areas have most respect? What is the attitude towards customers?

Spotting the signs
Microsoft is an example of an informal culture – one visitor to the company observed a group of programmers in bathing suits discussing software bugs over a game of volleyball in the hallway

Japanese cosmetics company Kao has a culture built on trust – all employees have access to the organisation’s entire computerised information system, and can even check up on the President’s expense account

discipline and support are central to Intel’s culture – every meeting follows an agenda and closes with a firm decision; discussion or dissent is not discouraged, but once an issue is fully aired, people are expected to commit; also, by deliberately backing more than one potential solution to a problem, Intel increases its chances of ultimately finding a winner; but to maintain the commitment of an unsuccessful team and its willingness to take risks, management celebrates discoveries made along the ‘road not taken’

Cultural keys

Corporate cultures where change can thrive have four factors in common:

  • Discipline
    • i.e. consistency, follow-through, honest communication of results, documentation, working through a process; while compliance can kill off any attempt at change, discipline can help drive change through, and deliver results
    • trust
      • people resist change when they think it opposes their interests; there must be transparency about who gains, who loses, what the benefits are, and to whom they accrue; without trust, employees will not take the risks necessary to change
      • support
        • unlike a command-and-control culture, employees lend each other a helping hand through coaching, personal development, praise for a job well done
        • stretch
          • stimulates employees to strive for more ambitious objectives; raises their expectations of themselves and others; employees encouraged to strive voluntarily to meet and beat their own goals
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This entry was posted in JIT: Leading teams, JIT: Managing change, Managing change, The leadership toolbox. Bookmark the permalink.

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