Navigating changes in an organisation’s culture


Changing the cultural behaviour of an organisation is one of the biggest challenges a company can face writes Luke Wintle.

Organisational culture is essentially a mixing pot of goals, attitudes, processes, values, communication practices and assumptions that all need to be considered holistically. Many organisations struggle to achieve sustained, meaningful impact, often because they try to change one aspect without addressing the others in an integrated fashion. However, if the right measures are taken, any organisation can work towards long-lasting change.

The most important first step any business can take when it comes to shifting their culture is to ensure the leadership team is 100 percent committed to the change. As culture is often ingrained, investing quality time and resources to help a new culture take root is crucial; management’s support will be needed to make sure this happens.

Identify your champions of change
Leadership teams are not always made up of those that sit at the top of the pyramid. Leaders in a business are the centres of influence: the people that the rest of company gravitates towards because they are trusted, respected, and engaged. They hold the key to unlocking change, as their words and actions are observed, listened to and most importantly, emulated. Recognising who is part of this key team, and getting their buy-in and commitment to the program, is critical. At Leading Teams, we encourage clients to consider who sits on their leadership teams and whether there are any significantly influential people who do not feature in the group. Can they be included?  Can they be consulted for input and support? Can a new peer-elected leadership team be created?

This leadership group has a responsibility to work together to determine company values and draw up plans for reaching cultural objectives. Mapping out what the business stands for creates the company trademark. The next step, which is to decide on the behaviours that model these trademarks, is even more important. Without engagement and “right before your eyes” behavioural change, there will not be any culture shift in a company.

When the leadership team has completely bought into leading change and demonstrates this through action, a natural diffusion of culture typically occurs as employees begin to take notice.

Enable your advocates
Not everyone will have the same response to a change campaign. Usually, one is faced with a group of people that will vary in their willingness to adapt and ability to perform within the new framework.
When individuals are willing but unable, does that mean more training needs to be invested to bring them up to task? Conversely, if an individual is unwilling but able, how do you create buy-in? Who are they influencing and what are the consequences of their behaviour? Will one-on-one coaching do the trick? And if you have someone who is both unwilling and incapable, why are they still in the organisation? Is there a need to review the recruitment process?

These questions only form the tip of the iceberg when it comes to change. Understanding the ability and willingness of each person in the leadership team to play an active role in driving change is necessary in order to get the group in shape before tackling the organisation at large. Various tools such as updating work processes, professional training, team building exercises, direct coaching and group sessions with an external facilitator are at your disposal, but need to be used in the right circumstances to effect the desired result.

The hardest yard
People tend to shrink away when it comes to having honest and genuine conversations. Yet, this is an important part of the process because, without hard truths, the change you realise will be superficial.
To achieve game-changing impact, accepting and dealing with open communication is a major aspect. And this is not a one-time process. Constant, ongoing feedback and being transparent about team performance, assessing target achievements and rewarding positive behaviour will ensure the new culture is given oxygen to breathe.

While the initial idea of having to listen to your peer’s honest review of your work and professional behaviour is confrontational and takes time to adjust to, high performing teams with a positive work culture understand that the purpose of feedback is to achieve better results for the collective team. In an environment with strong professional relationships, people feel assured to engage in open discussions because nothing is taken personally. Ultimately, high performing teams with a positive work environment begin to crave feedback as it helps them realise how each individual is faring without guesswork.

They’ll do it when they own it
People need to feel empowered to take full responsibility for a task. Empowerment is not a top-down instruction; a leader cannot simply say, “I empower you” or “be empowered” and expect that to mean anything to the follower. Instead, it should really come from the follower believing that he or she is empowered to act on something. This again boils down to trust and respect. Trust is a key ingredient in the process of change. When there is trust, there is the ability to take direction when necessary, and the knowledge that decisions are made for the collective success of the team. Respecting your team and trusting they will follow you to uncharted waters means giving them ownership and involving them in the process.

It’s a marathon
Cultural change will not happen in a day, or a week. One team building exercise, or a couple of off-sites will not yield significant changes. Short bursts of activity are fleeting and wear off. Cultural change can be likened to preparing for a marathon. A marathon runner takes months to prepare himself for a race, and gradually builds up to a level of endurance and strength required to complete a marathon. There is discipline, effort, commitment and time involved. Pace is essential. It is not sustainable to simply charge ahead without any planning or thought behind it. Instead, there are building blocks to get to the bigger goal. Finally, there is no toe-dipping. You are either all-in or you have already set yourself up to fail. BFM

Luke Wintle is a facilitator at Leading Teams. He has over 15 years’ experience in education, where he has excelled in the facilitation and coordination of Vocational Education & Training programs, linked with elite/state sporting organisations. Luke currently works with clients such as McDonalds, Monash Health and the Australian Sports Commission.

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