Saturday, 25 July 2009

A model for culture change


As a training professional we work hard to make sure we define our learning objectives correctly, we design the course to match the learning styles of our audience and sometimes we even evaluate whether it was all successful. Training can be a powerful lever of change…….but of course it isn’t the only one.

I am currently working with a client where they are looking to achieve a real shift in behaviour…..a culture change. Culture is one of those strange things…..people can usually recognise the culture in which they work or live…..but it can be difficult to describe. Some people say that it is just ‘the way things happen around here’ – which isn’t a bad description. In most organisations a culture just seems to develop over time – sometimes it is highly influenced by a couple of individuals (such as Google) whereas in others it has grown over many many years (IBM, Marks and Spencer etc). Most organisations would say that culture is something that differentiates them from their peers – for good or for bad!

So what happens when the culture in the organisation needs to change? Maybe it has morphed into something where decision making is no longer quick and easy, maybe people just don’t seem to enjoy working there anymore, maybe the organisation is becoming more sensitive to it’s environmental responsibilities….there can be a million different drivers. But how can you change the culture….is it possible? Well actually you can change organisational culture but it takes a huge amount of effort and coordination.

I really like the model shown above that helps understand the things that shape the way people behave in an organisation. Let’s take an example – imagine that the culture of an organisation prevents people from raising issues and concerns because there is a fear of retaliation. Look at the model but work from
right to left….

What is the result? The organisation isn’t performing to it’s potential. Staff turnover is high and motivation levels are low.

What is the impact? People will be exhibiting the behaviour of not raising any issues and concerns they may have. They know what they should do but would rather keep the problem to themselves rather than risk the possibility of some sort of comeback by ‘management’

What is the manifestation? People have a belief that if they raise an issue then there will be a negative personal impact.

What is the shaper? People have this belief because they see role models that reinforce this through their actions. There are no processes that make it easy to raise issues and concerns anonymously. There are no people in the organisation to turn to for advice etc.

The shapers in the model are the important element here. These are the levers that you can pull in order to influence the culture and behaviours that you desire. So let’s revisit the example again but this time moving left to right.

Shapers: Let’s imagine that a series of training interventions were introduced for first level managers on how to create an environment with their people to discuss and raise issues openly. This was coupled with a communication campaign over an extended period that raised awareness and reinforced how important it is. The CEO and other senior managers regularly discuss the subject and even start to hold open session with people as a new forum for discussion. In addition new processes were introduced that enabled people to raise an issue anonymously and new roles were created in the organisation to provide an independent view and even an investigation if required. Competency and performance measures are introduced that encourage new behaviours. People start to ‘test the water’ – they raise an issue and wait to see what happens. If things go OK then they get some confidence back, they talk to their colleagues about their experience…..and the snowball starts to grow.

Manifestation: People’s beliefs have started to change. They now believe that they can raise an issue or concern without there being any negative impact.

Impact: As a result of changed beliefs, people’s behaviour starts to change. Managers are starting to have constructive and open conversations with their staff. You may see the new processes being used as people raise issues. Things start to change in the organisation as a result –maybe some people even get dismissed or disciplined. New people joining the organisation are selected based on a new set of criteria etc

Result: The organisation starts performing better. People are happier in their jobs and staff turnover goes down. The organisation is able to hold onto its talent and can even attract new talent in. As a result of people being listened to real improvements start to take place. Whereas previously people were afraid to raise their concerns about product quality or about a new market venture, the new environment is one where challenge is the norm – in fact the behaviour is encouraged and rewarded.

So it’s about identifying the suite of shapers - the levers you need to pull in order to impact the values and beliefs in the organisation. This is where the skill is – identifying the right levers, implementing them effectively and creating the necessary momentum. That’s the difficult bit and an area where consultants can play a really valuable role…..

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