Change the Change or Change the Culture

Posted by Paula Alsher on Thu, Oct 13, 2016 @ 11:03 AM

Creating a cultural fit is an important element of the AIM Change Management Methodology. Your organization’s culture is arguably your greatest strategic asset.  Your competition can potentially match your product or service. Competition can create a marketing strategy that’s equally powerful. But no competition will have your culture. Culture ChangeYour corporate culture is the collective pattern of values, behaviors, and unwritten rules of your organization—it’s the collective frame of reference for your organization. And when it comes to implementation of major business changes, the consistency of that change within the corporate culture can predict the probability of implementation success. 


Unwritten Rules are Most Powerful

We all recognize that our organizations have unique aspects to them which we can term the "corporate culture."  The culture includes:

  • Behaviors: how we operate
  • Values: guidelines for the decisions we make
  • Unwritten rules: “the way we do things around here”

In a successful organization, values are consistently expressed, modeled, and reinforced. When the there is a mismatch or lack of alignment between the “walk,” the “talk,” and the reinforcement from leaders, there is less confidence and trust. In terms of implementation, this lack of trust impacts the speed and resources required for successful implementation. 

Low Trust = Low speed, more resources needed

High Trust = High speed, fewer resources needed

Remember that reinforcement has the greatest impact on the successful outcome of your change, and when there is a mismatch between what is expressed, modeled, and reinforced, you can expect confusion and less readiness for the change. 

While values are important, it’s the unwritten rules that are the most powerful determinant of culture. So powerful, in fact, that if your change is inconsistent with the culture, you ultimately will be faced with two choices—either change the change, so that it is consistent, or change the culture, which is a long and very difficult process {Tweet This}


Changing the Culture is a Difficult Proposition

Don’t go up against your organizational culture without a business imperative to do so, because you can expect lots of resistance.  There are many reasons why culture change is so difficult. First, leaders will be inclined to reinforce the culture that made them successful in the first place—culture is self-reinforcing! So, consequently you can expect a lot of resistance from the leaders themselves (as we say, you can expect the greatest resistance from those that have the highest investment in things remaining the same.) 

If changing the culture still makes good business sense, we strongly recommend that you do it by applying the cultural change to 1 or 2 strategic initiatives, rather than attempting to train people to the new desired culture.  The new values are then applied to the project in several ways:

  • Identify what the values will look like behaviorally. For example, if you are trying to be collaborative, what does collaboration look like for this specific project?
  • Build an implementation plan with the appropriate reinforcements for the new behaviors.
  • Make certain that you have powerful Sponsors who are actively committed to the change (not just offering lip-service) and are willing to apply consequences for non-compliance with the new values.
  • Develop skilled Change Agents who can support the culture change. If you have too few Agents, or don’t have credibility and influence in the right areas of the organization, your chances for success will be minimal.
  • Use the capacity you have built for this project to drive cultural change values and behaviors into the next strategic initiative.

Culture change requires more than a vision of the future state—you need a solid implementation plan that includes specific plans for building Sponsorship, Readiness, Reinforcement, Communication, and Change Agents.  

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Topics: Culture, Enterprise-wide Change