Cultural change - are your employees ready?

Defining the culture of a business is challenging and is often associated with high level theoretical models and academic narratives. It can seem like a hazy concept - a complex web of human attitudes, motivations, behaviours and opinions.

How can you really understand whether ‘the way things are done around here’ matches expectations and will support wider strategic objectives? There is no simple answer, although culture in any organisation should represent the ‘DNA’ of what the organisation is about, its very being, driving through at every level the values, beliefs and ethos of what it represents.

Every business needs to change and adapt itself according to market opportunities. These create the momentum for companies to evolve, change their structure and meet ever increasing demands from customers. Too often organisations get caught up in the process of change, rather than considering and planning for what happens after the process is complete and the impact this can have on employees.

The impact of change on your people

Change inevitably creates levels of uncertainty and this can lead to negativity, causing reduced employee engagement and sometimes disruption. It is important therefore that organisations really think about change and pro-actively consider the business and people impact before it happens.

There are many factors which influence ‘culture’ that give every workplace a distinctive look and feel - sub-cultures may often be visible at a local level. There will be positive and negative influences which will either encourage or hinder cultural alignment and progression.

Some would argue that it is better to know what you are dealing with and encourage different approaches and increased engagement, rather than leaving it to chance and therefore running the risk that negative energies will encourage resistance to change and disruption.

Organisations should therefore consider the most effective employee communications approach, to maximise buy-in to the strategy and direction of travel before, during and after any change process.

How do you measure culture?

To assess how collaborative an existing culture is, a cultural audit would provide some clues, but it would not test for the specific attitudes and behaviours that are demonstrated, or required to make a practical difference. The best way of measuring this is to get feedback from those who have experienced it first hand;

  • the employees;
  • the public;
  • customers;
  • collaborating organisations; and
  • suppliers.

Direct feedback can be collated from a range of sources including internal and external surveys, focus groups, people related information held within HR, customer compliments and complaints and supplier evaluations.

How can you incorporate cultural change into ways of working?

Once the current position and specific organisational challenges are understood, a targeted programme of organisational development and cultural change can be progressed, ideally working alongside specialist HR Consultants with expertise in this area. This programme could initially focus on:

  1. Strategic leadership: developing a clear strategic direction for the organisation that defines the organisational culture and encourages buy-in from employees at all levels.
  2. Communication and employee voice: developing a successful two-way dialogue which enables employees to openly share their thoughts and opinions with senior managers, as well as cascading communications and updates from the top, therefore promoting transparency, consistency and fairness, which lead to greater engagement and increased openness to change.
  3. Manager development: enabling line managers to drive performance in a positive, proactive way that moves away from the more traditional ‘command and control’ approach. This can be achieved by equipping and empowering them to lead change scenarios, by giving more responsibility for the messaging and leading by example.