The Importance of Organisational Culture – And How to Change It.

The Importance of Organisational Culture – And How to Change It.

What is organisational culture and does it really “eat strategy for breakfast”?

“Organizational culture is the sum of values and rituals which serve as ‘glue’ to integrate the members of the organization.” (Richard Perrin)

An organisation’s culture is defined by the underlying values, beliefs, habits, behaviours and interactions of its people that have been encouraged, rewarded, and reinforced in the workplace usually over a number of years. Sometimes the ‘real’ culture, the one lived and experienced by everyone every day, can be quite different to the one outwardly presented in the organisation’s strategy and procedures. If this is the case – if strategy and culture are not aligned and mutually supportive – culture will certainly, as Peter Drucker famously described, “eat strategy for breakfast” …and probably lunch and dinner too! So why do we tend to ignore it until forced to re-assess?

3 key steps to changing your culture

The culture of your organisation is key to the success – or failure – of your business achieving its strategic goals, but it’s often not something we proactively review and consider. Action is usually prompted by some kind of major incident or imposed change, such as financial loss, negative audit or regulatory findings or a new leader at the helm.

As organisational cultures tend to form over many years and can seem deep-rooted, the thought of over-hauling, or even just tweaking, ‘the way we do things’ can seem like an enormous task. However, embarking on a cultural change programme does not have to be as challenging or as costly as it might seem – although you will certainly need to be prepared to invest time and energy into the endeavour – and, if done well, it will lead to improved business performance and a positive impact on the bottom line.

The three key steps to changing your organisation’s culture are:

  1. Understanding your current culture, the experience of your employees and most likely also your customers and other stakeholders.
  2. Defining a vision for the future of your business and understanding the values and behaviours (culture) that you’ll need to help you get there: not just what you’re going to deliver to your customers and stakeholders – but how you’re going to do it. Define what needs to change culturally to ensure that you can achieve these goals.
  3. Implementing a cultural change programme that is co- designed and co-owned with your employees. To be successful, cultural change must be championed and driven from within and across the organisation, not just from the top, and so employees need support to bring them round to both actively choosing to change their behaviour and understanding how to do this.

TDN’s Cultural Change Model

Through its work with employers to develop and embed a Diversity and Inclusion strategy, Arbre’s TDN Academy has developed a model to help guide organisations, step by step, to achieving cultural change.  The business benefits of developing a diverse and inclusive culture are profound and well researched and, as cultural change can only be achieved through your employees adapting and changing their behaviours, an inclusive approach to cultural change itself makes sense.

Here’s a snap shot of our approach, based on what works:

1) Establish leadership belief
Buy-in, ownership and drive for cultural change should come from the very top.  Leaders must believe in the value of cultural change and not just see it as a tick box exercise.  And this often means a learning exercise for the board, driven by increased awareness and meaningful discussion and debate.  

2) Take stock
An assessment of the organisation’s current culture and what needs to change to support the board’s cultural vision, must be based on a deep understanding of the demographic make up of your workforce.  Sound data will help you understand, firstly, who makes up your organisation and then what their experience of inclusion in your workplace really is. 

This is likely to include an employee engagement survey, but it’s important that you dig below the broad averages that the survey may be summarised in. The seemingly small differences in average scores between demographic groups (eg men and women) can often be glossed over and you miss what is really going on for some.  For example, the scores in one area may show a small difference in responses from women and men overall.  However, it is only when you start to understand the difference in experience between, say, white women and black women, that you really start to reveal some of the barriers to inclusion that may exist.

This cultural ‘audit’ and a deep understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your organisation’s culture will leave you well placed to develop some specific cultural change goals and Key Performance Indicators, against which you will measure progress as you move towards change.

3) Start a conversation
Change must be led by leadership, but for it to be successful it has to be embraced and driven from within and across the organisation.  If you haven’t already, start a two-way conversation with your employees about diversity and inclusion – increasing awareness and inspiring people to see the value of D&I as being part of ‘everything we do’. 

4) Build a plan for the future
Involve all levels of employees in the development of your D&I strategy and understanding how you can de-bias your processes and procedures.  Drive the definition and progression of goals through employee-led working groups, that focus on key aspects of the cultural change being sought, eg in communication and engagement, Learning and Development, Talent Management, recruitment, etc.  Have an Executive sponsor for each project, but enable your employees to shape, drive and own the change too.

5) Embed
Change isn’t always easy or comfortable and increased diversity can lead to some challenges.  Embed the change programme through constructively reassuring and inclusively communicating with employees every step of the way (see our blog on ‘Communicating Change’ for some tips) .  This will likely mean really raising your organisation’s game when it comes to learning and support for line managers.  Do not tolerate behaviours from employees, especially leaders, that are at odds with your values and an inclusive culture.  Recruit people into your business based on their passion for learning and for supporting others as much as their technical skills.

6) Evolve
Continuously monitor and review progress at board level, rewarding those who actively demonstrate your values and support the change process. Adapt your strategy and approach as necessary as the business environment shifts and changes.  Look outside of your organisation for inspiration and opportunities to support wider social change in the community. 

Where ever you are on your change journey, we are happy to share our expertise and can provide tools, insights, facilitation and learning programmes (some of which are free) to support every stage of the D&I Cultural Change model.   Please do get in touch if you would like to discuss further or if you’d like to see a few of the case studies on which we’ve based our model.

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