How to embed a cultural transformation programme

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How to embed a cultural transformation programme

Leo Tolstoy, the Russian novelist, famously wrote: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”


After years of collaborating with clients to advance the practice of leadership and cultural transformation, we’ve become convinced that organisational change is inseparable from individuals within the organisation changing simultaneously.


Simply put, change efforts often falter because individuals overlook the need to make fundamental changes in themselves.


Building self-understanding and then translating it into an organisational context is easier said than done and getting started is often the challenge.


What does sustaining a programme look like?

The most challenging thing is seeing it through (sustaining), as the momentum needed for success relies on resilience and enduring energy after the initial enthusiasm has waned.


Many companies move rapidly from outlining performance objectives to implementing a suite of change initiatives. Be it a new growth strategy or business-unit structure, the integration of a recent acquisition or the rollout of a new operational improvement effort, such organisations focus on altering systems and structures, supported by newly created policies and processes.


How do you embed change?

To achieve collective change over time, actions like these are necessary, but seldom sufficient. A new strategy will fall short of its potential if it fails to address the underlying mindsets and capabilities of the people who will execute it.


Research and client experience suggest that half of all efforts to transform organisational performance fail either because senior managers don’t act as role models for change or because people in the organisation defend the status quo. Despite the stated and highly desired goals to change, people tend to behave as they did before.


Leadership needs to be patient, resilient and focused enough to see it through. These traits are often undervalued, or something new comes along and distracts leadership from delivery.


Anyone who tries to drive an organisation in a new direction must look inward as well as outward.


What are some of the common mistakes we see?

Companies that only look outward in the process of organisational change tend to make two common mistakes.


The first is to focus solely on business outcomes. These companies direct their attention to the technical aspects of a new solution. But they fail to appreciate the adaptive work people must do to implement it. Not just implement it but live it.


The second common mistake, made even by companies that recognise the need for new learning, is to focus too much on developing skills. Training that only emphasises new behaviour rarely translates into profoundly different performance outside the classroom.


What will work?

Working with our clients undertaking leadership and cultural transformations, we’ve found that the best way to achieve an organisation’s aspirations is to combine efforts that look outward with those who look inward.


Leaders linking strategic and systemic intervention to genuine self-discovery and self-development of their people is a far better path to embracing the organisation’s vision and to realising its business goals.


This integration of looking both inward and outward is the most potent formula we know for creating long-term, high impact organisational change.


The tough questions to ask yourself

What individual and collective change are you planning? How successful is your current change programme working? Does your communication strategy match your ambitions?


We know it’s challenging to engage with everyone at all levels, to recognise, adopt and embrace a new way of working – no matter the industry, region, culture or service/products sold. If you want new ways of working or want to talk about where you are right now with your change programme – talk to Marianne Berendse or Andrew Page - click here. Or any of our +people® Partners.  

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