How to transform your organisation’s culture

How to transform your organisation’s culture

When you examine your organisation in action do you observe any of the following behavioural norms?

  • Team members who avoid conflict at all costs?
  • Meetings that tend to avoid sensitive subjects which may cause disagreements and debate?
  • Do people hide their true thoughts for fear of upsetting others?
  • Do departments compete against each other rather than other organisations?
  • Managers overloaded by work, because team members can’t achieve the right quality?
  • Do employees fail to demonstrate initiative for fear of making mistakes?

These behaviours are often warning signs that you have a problem with your organisation’s culture. Managing culture is probably the single most important challenge for any organisation leader.

So what is organisation culture? Well, culture is the glue that holds everything together. It’s well defined by Stanley Davis when he observed, ‘“Culture is the pattern of shared beliefs and values that give members of an institution meaning, and provide them with the rules for behaviour in their organisation.”

Organisational culture can be split into three levels, which are all linked closely:

  • Underlying assumptions: beliefs, perceptions, thoughts and feelings that are rarely, if ever, articulated and largely taken for granted.
  • Espoused values: goals, strategies and philosophies communicated at staff briefings and in organisational statements.
  • Symptoms: visible, day-to-day organisational structures and processes.

According to the world’s leading authority on culture change Edgar Schein, ‘Leaders and culture are two sides of the same coin. It can be argued that the only real importance that leaders do, is to create and manage culture. That the unique talent of a leader, is the ability to understand and work with culture and it is an ultimate act of leadership to destroy culture when it’s viewed as dysfunctional. So if one wishes to distinguish leadership from management or administration, one can argue that leaders create and change culture, while management and administration acts within a culture’.

So how can executives and HR leaders shape the culture of their organisation?  Outstand specialises in helping senior managers understand their current operating culture. We work with organisations of all sizes make the transition from what can be a passive defensive or aggressive culture to one where team members demonstrate constructive behaviour through their work and their interaction with colleagues, clients and stakeholders.

We apply a 5-phase model for cultural change which includes; 

  1. Deformation: existing values are questioned and unsuitable practices identified.
  2. Reconciliation: new ideas are identified and consolidated into a vision for the new culture.
  3. Acculturation: the vision is translated into reality through the communication of the new values.
  4. Enacting: the new values are represented in everyday behaviours.
  5. Formation: the new culture is adopted by the organisation.

Leaders have a pivotal role to play in the success of any culture change programme. Employees will look to their managers and senior managers for explanation, support and guidance. Leaders should therefore:

  • set the tone of the new culture and ‘walk the talk’
  • lead the cultural change movement and champion its rationale and benefits
  • set the cultural change programme as a top priority
  • ensure all communications are consistent with the new culture
  • measure the progress of cultural change

HR also plays a critical role in any culture change programme. Here is how HR can influence culture change:

  • Learn about the ‘how’ of culture change and be aware about what cultural change mechanism is required
  • Have a long-term strategy to make sure that leaders understand how to carry out systematic organisational health and development
  • Help the leaders to hand-pick influential line leaders at 2nd and 3rd levels to work with them, to lead the culture change
  • Give these influential managers support and up-skill them to do this work
  • Roll out the cultural interventions into succession planning and talent management
  • Get something into the leadership development curriculum, that helps leaders understand how strategy and culture works together, because one doesn’t work without the other
  • Help leaders to know how to use behavioural modelling to lead the organisation and provide feedback as required

As the cultural change commences there are a number of important principles to adhere to in order to increase the chances of success:

  • Change takes time: it is not easily scheduled and must legislate for significant variables such as uncertainty, ambiguity, risk and setback
  • Leaders must create the climate within which business units, teams and individuals should change
  • Change should be explained in relation to the business case and the required performance level
  • The emphasis should be on new ways of working and creating the opportunities for staff to behave in new ways: because where behaviours are changed, attitudes will follow

If you would like to learn more about your organisation’s culture and what can be done to shape it, contact Outstand today.