Thursday, June 16, 2011

Changing your change

I have often blogged about the need for being planful when it comes to change. Of course those that know my approach to plans’ also know that I look upon a culture change plan as a guide rather than a set of hard and fast rules.
This is because I know that when it comes to culture change you are constantly testing the mood of the organisation, seeking feedback, and generally working with what you have in front of you. In the case of culture change your plan will be constantly updated as you learn what worked, what the organisation responded to and of course as the culture begins to change, that in itself will mean that the way you work with the organisation begins to change.

Lets play that last part through again and expand on it. When you begin to engage with your organisation about a change in culture you will inevitably engage in a way that works at that time. If you don’t engage in a culturally appropriate way then it is likely that your people will not grasp the message that you are trying to convey. So for example if you have a very formal organisation with a lot of top down and you want to change to a more flexible organisation with less hierarchy it may seem appropriate to engage with them in a style that matches that flexible ideal doesn’t it?
But that wont work for a couple of reasons. Firstly, if your people are used to formal announcements and you decide to wander round and have casual chats they will see that you are having casual chats and wont see that you are announcing change: because thats not the way that ‘things are done around here’ (which is the simple definition of culture). Secondly, you don’t truly know what a ‘flexible’ culture will mean yet. You may have some ideas and you may think you know what you want, but once you start to engage your organisation in a new idea of culture you cannot be 100% sure what shape that ideal will take in reality. This means that if you say ‘this is how it is going to be from now on’ and you find a couple of months later that its not working then you aren’t going to look good.
This means that you start by engaging in a way that works at the time, but make it clear that this is not what you are looking for in the future ( a perfect way to initiate a change in culture is to hold up the now and say this is not what you want). You engage people in the idea of the culture before the reality of the culture (Unless you are a dictator and we’ve explored that theme before).

As your culture change programme roles out you will then begin to engage in more and more ‘flexible’ ways if flexibility is the theme of your culture change. You will be learning what flexibility means for your business and re-defining it on a day to day basis. You will be engaging with ideas from your people, many of whom will have some great insights into what they need from you in a ‘flexible culture’.If you aren’t then you are not being flexible!

One of the tests that I suggest to my clients is to constantly ask themselves if the new process, new approach, new system, communication etc is in line with their proposed ‘vision’ and ‘culture’. By constantly testing how you do things, you keep your culture change intentions top of mind, but also you are ensuring that the current reality doesn’t stay that way by accident and habit.

Culture change is best seen as a journey, so treat your plan as a road map that is changing and learning as you and your people are.

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