Transforming culture

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Many of the organisations we speak with claim to struggle to deliver successful change or transformation. When probed the perception is often that this failure is due to the organisation’s culture.   This opinion is supported by many studies – a 2016 KPMG study showed that 28% of the world’s leading chief executives thought organisational culture was a barrier to achieving their transformation goals.

The impact of this perception can lead organisations to delay their transformation efforts until the culture is ‘right’, the result of which is no meaningful change ever happening. The worst-case scenario is when organisations think that in order to change the culture they must change the staff. This leads to large restructuring programmes that ultimately fail to achieve the cultural change they desire.

Our conclusion is that few people know how to practically deliver the culture change they need.

We ran an event in November 2019 for leaders and change practitioners from the public, not-for-profit and charity sectors examining the relationship between culture and successful transformation. With them we set about answering the question of how to embed a new culture in order to maximise the success of transformation.

What is the right culture?

Anyone who knows us will be aware of our penchant to keep things simple. It should be no surprise therefore that our favourite definition of culture comes from Deal and Kennedy who defined culture as “The way things are done around here.”

What a good culture looks like is very much dependent on the organisation and sector you are working in. What good looks like in the secret service is going to be very different from what a charity sector of ‘good’ is. For any organisation that is delivering services to customers, the definition of good will be similar; you need to value the doers, work towards a common goal/vision, be open and transparent, and be free to constructively challenge each other.

Our definition of a ‘good’ culture is “Where everyone is engaged in continuously improving service for the customer.”

From discussions, research, and our experience we believe there are three stages to transforming a culture, and like all meaningful change or transformation it’s simple, but not easy.

Stage 1: Understand what you have now and how it will affect your transformation

Hopefully any transformation or change you are completing involves an analysis of the current state in the organisation. We call this a diagnostic (sometimes called a health check or assessment). Our first stage involves making sure the culture of the organisation undergoes the same current state analysis.

Below is an extract from our culture change assessment, that gives you a flavour of the things you need to be assessing at this early stage.

Theme

Leadership commitment

Communication

Staff engagement

Methodology

Effective measures

Values

Behaviours

Purpose

Accountability

Capability

Questions to explore

Do managers enable the frontline to deliver services to customers?

Is your communication style broadcasting or engaging?

How actively do staff participate in improvement?

Is there a clearly understood methodology for improvement?

Are there well-rounded, effective measures in place?

Do the values align with and reflect the organisation’s purpose

Do behaviours reflect the current values of the organisation?

Is there a shared understanding of the organisation’s vision and mission?

Are roles and responsibilities clear?

Do the necessary people have the required skills?

Stage 2: Design your culture and transformation in parallel

Once you understand what the culture is like now, you need to set out how you want your culture to be. There is no one size fits all tool for designing each element of your culture. Each requires a different approach. What we can share with you is the critical success factors for the design stage which are:

  • Involve others in the design – engage as broad and varied an input into the design of your organisations culture as possible
  • Use a structured approach to design the different elements of your culture. This could be workshops, meetings with set agendas, templates etc. Without this structure the design sessions can descend into nothing more than a debate with little agreed or documented at the end.
  • Keep it real – it’s okay to use terms like ‘grounded, transparent or customer focused’ but what you must do is drill down into what these mean, and how they practically manifest themselves in the organisation.
Stage 3: Turn your design into practical actions and implement

Once you have done all the analysis and design work it is critical to follow through swiftly. The actions you need to complete will depend on the outcomes of the two previous stages, but aside from those specifics we have a few other tips for successful implementation of your new culture:

Leaders play a critical role – pay specific attention to the way you communicate, be transparent, honest and above all celebrate the successes no matter how small. Leaders also need to be visible, you can’t role model the new culture you want from sitting behind your desk (unless the culture you designed is one of seclusion and disengagement, which we doubt!), so get yourself out there and in Ghandi’s own words ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’.

It is undoubtedly true that some cultures are better than others, but is any culture ‘perfect’? We would say it’s unlikely. This means there are always tweaks and improvements to make to your culture. Culture change can be done in parallel with any other transformation programme you are embedding, but it must be given the attention required for success, and it is essential that your transformation programme supports the cultural shift you want and vice versa.

If you’d like to schedule a coffee to discuss anything you have read here today and how Ad Esse could help you to maximise your chances of successful transformation by designing and implementing your desired culture then then please get in touch at hello@ad-esse.com.