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Category: Culture Change

How to Deliver Successful Culture Change: The Leadership Challenge

Every team and organisation has a distinct culture. Culture can be defined as ‘what people do when no one is looking’. It’s the set of informal rules that spell out how people are expected to behave. Culture can provide the meaning, direction and clarity required to mobilise an organisation towards success, or it can act as a ‘blocker’ which prevents an organisation from achieving its objectives.  

In today’s ‘VUCA’ (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) environment, culture change is an important leadership priority. How can the culture be developed to deliver a medium term strategy which capitalises on the challenges and opportunities facing the organisation?

All too often, there’s an assumption that culture change is achieved simply by telling people what they need to do differently. We are all familiar with the conference speeches, corporate videos and posters that are often used to communicate a set of new behaviours or cultural principles.

But it’s much more complex than that.

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Culture is formed over time by the values and beliefs that permeate the organisation. These come directly from the organisation’s leaders and are evidenced by the systems, policies and procedures that are followed on a day-to-day basis and the ‘legends’ – the stories of success or failure – that sum up the culture. To truly understand and influence an organisation’s culture it’s important to understand these values and beliefs, which may be formally stated (for example as a set of organisational values), or much more informally communicated in the organisation.

Unless the culture that the organisation is aspiring to achieve is ‘backed up’ by the values and beliefs that are at play in the organisation, it’s unlikely to be realised. For example, a call centre may aspire to develop a culture which places a much higher importance on delivering an outstanding customer experience, but if leaders are actually more interested in achieving rapid call resolution and maximising on-line sales (and measuring and rewarding these outcomes), the outstanding customer experience will never be achieved.

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Leaders have a key role to play in achieving culture change. It’s not something that can be completely delegated to a project team. To deliver successful culture change, leaders must:

‘Be the change they want to see in the world’

By personally and consistently demonstrating the new culture, leaders can show their team what’s required and convince them that the change is here to stay. So – if for example the new culture requires more cross-functional working, leaders should demonstrate this in their own role, and personally support and celebrate cross functional working by others.

• Challenge existing policies and procedures

And change those that don’t support the new culture. Make sure that the organisation gets one clear, unequivocal message about the culture that’s required by ensuring that day to day routines support the new culture.

• Keep at it

Rome wasn’t built in a day! Even the most successful culture change programmes take months and include many setbacks. Leaders have a key role to play in maintaining focus and ensuring that new business strategies or challenges are aligned to the new culture.

Developing and sustaining the ‘right’ organisational culture is simultaneously the most important and most difficult challenge facing many business leaders today.

For more information about culture change, get in touch with one of our team members today.

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