Creating sustainable organisational culture change is one of the most difficult challenges leaders face
Organisational culture change is challenging as it involves people and is influenced by a complex mix of processes, values, attitudes, assumptions and communication practices.
Elements that prevent culture change from sticking:
1. Misunderstanding deeply held perceptions
The beliefs and perceptions we hold about “How things work around here” form a key part of an organisation’s culture. Lasting culture change begins with understanding these beliefs, and how they impact the work environment. e.g. A belief that raising issues will get you punished creates a culture of silence when things go wrong, or behaviour is inappropriate.
2. Assuming the change will be quick
Changing an organisation’s culture is a dynamic process, not a quick fix. Our strongly held assumptions and beliefs will either support or reduce the impact of any change programme. Unless we understand how these underlying beliefs shift throughout the change they can cause us to lose change momentum. This requires two-way communication and trust. Sustainable culture change requires consistent leadership involvement for the long haul. When leadership communication and behaviour is congruent, and employees feel they have a voice, shifting the culture is easier.
3. Ignoring the organisational context
Habits and automatic ways of thinking/acting help shape the context of organisational behaviour. In order to make culture change stick it is essential to examine the processes and habits that make up the organisational framework. An organisation’s culture is like water to a fish in a tank, we are often not aware of it until we are able to gain perspective. The context is coloured by employee attitudes (negative or positive) and non-productive management behaviours.Context isn’t always obvious, as a number of elements shape organisational context including:
- People practices (performance management, reward, recognition)
- Systems and processes (e.g. IT, policies)
- Internal communication alignment with media and external
- Employeerelationships and conflict management
- Levels of engagement
- Team vs department vs enterprise culture
- Strongly held beliefs
- Legacy behaviours
- Social/community engagement
- Customer service
- The work environment (layout, resources, dress code)
4. Losing the lessons
Many organisations focus too much on the end result and miss the lessons from the challenges and failures along the way. When it comes to culture change how we get there is often more important than the end result. Building a learning culture helps embed a sustainable culture and stimulates innovation. When a task is perceived as a performance situation, we tend to be more risk averse and less willing to try new things. When the task is framed as a learning opportunity we are more willing to experiment and take risks.
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