Change Management: May the Culture Be With You

Change is happening all around us at an exponential rate – this is not news. All we have to do is open our eyes: we see it on the television in how we obtain content (notice I have not said watch a tv show), how adverts are targeting their audience, reading a paper (electronically or hard copy), and in how we communicate with each other personally and professionally. Technology is enabling these changes faster than we can really comprehend in many ways, but what does this say about our culture? We are still trying to catch up by trying to understand the impact of big data, smart cities initiatives, GDPR – the evidence is there and none more stark than the congressional sessions carried out recently with Mark Zuckerberg of FB.

Organisations can also struggle with the impact of a change on their people, processes and procedures due to the fast rate and/or amount of change they are dealing with. As a result, the culture of the organisation needs to be taken into consideration, as this can determine how ready the organisation is for the change. Furthermore if the culture is not considered then the change can be completely undermined and as a result, fail.

So what do we do? How do we determine and take into consideration the culture of an organisation – what do we need to do to ensure the culture changes along with the change we are trying to implement?

The key to a culture change is stakeholder engagement and management. It is not enough to simply communicate (or what I call download information) to the key stakeholders. This is about taking them on the journey – enabling them to be a champion, critical friend, sponsor of the transformation. The key difference is to share what needs to be achieved and why but also how and, get their input, so it can be put into action: What do they think about it? How do they think this will impact their business areas and teams? What can you and others do to help them? Do some compromises need to be made, as a consequence?

Once you have your key stakeholders on board, it is then about keeping them on board and in the loop. Have regular updates with them in the way they would like to receive them, whether that is a fortnightly/monthly/quarterly meeting or newsletter or email. Whichever way, it is important to make sure they have heard the messages and hence are leading the change. Then it is looking at how you can help everyone else come on board. Is that via a townhall, workshop or utilising change champions to help spread the word? There are a number of tactics and the best methods will be determined by the size and location of the organisation along with how people like to receive information. For example, a small organisation of 300 may all work predominately in one location, so a townhall might be best along with showcase and drop in centres. Whereas a large organisation spread across the globe may need champions, local leader sponsorship and electronic mechanisms to provide the necessary communication channels and support.

The key to integrating real change is to embed the change into how an organisation does things – in the processes, procedures and the way it interacts. When it comes to workplace change, typically the process and procedures are thoroughly considered but rarely is the ‘interaction’ of an organisation. The interaction involves the behaviours, communication mechanisms and socialisation which are part of everyday working life of the organisation.

So, when implementing workplace change, you need to consider not just how you want people to interact in the future, but identifying and tackling the ways in which that is different from the way things take place today. Then you need to work with the people that are affected and ask them, “what do you need to do differently and how” or rather “what and how could you do things differently?” This is a very powerful way of not only giving ownership of the change to the people affected but also of implementing culture change. After all, it is the people that change a culture – whether that is in an organisation, city or society… not what’s written on a piece of paper.


Written by AWA Director of Change Management, Jennifer Bryan.