Changing the Culture

The COVID-19 crisis has changed the way the world works.  Aside from expecting a significant number of bankruptcies and job losses, we cannot ask people who have learnt to work from home to go back to the office as if nothing had happened.

This change is going to have a profound impact on the culture of most businesses and the change needs to be managed.

Changing the culture of a business or organisation is not at all like changing the technology or processes, you can’t just tell people to change and hope for the best.  To be clear, I am calling “culture” the way people behave when management is not watching.

Changing the culture of any group is a peculiar mix of process, psychology and sociology.  I have frequently heard that it is not possible to change the culture by people who are trying to apply traditional or simple solutions to what is at best a complex problem – probably a chaotic problem.  Few understand the effect a variety of constraints may have on forming the culture of their team; few understand what must, can, should or could be done about these constraints, how they interact, how they modify each other.  I would even go as far as saying that few understand the influence the culture of their organisation has on the success of their business, the quality of their products and services.

In addition to the general problems, there is a strong emotional response to change that cannot be overcome through logic or data but requires to generate a stronger emotion to encourage participation.

When considering a change in an organisation, you will need to implement new processes, metrics and controls – but you must avoid at all costs bureaucracy and the need for extensive training in new tools or ways of working.  You need to learn to focus more on educating, less on training.  You need to find new ways to motivate staff into doing the right thing instead of just telling them what to do.

And, of course, the most important in any transformation is understanding the starting point.  You may have a bad feeling about people not being motivated, but that is not enough.  Some research is required to truly understand and measure the cultural aspects of the organisation, and, for that research, an external, independent person is best placed as they have no interest in preserving or trashing the business, team members, leadership or any other aspect.  An external person can be objective and seek to truly understand the fundamental aspects:

  • Doing as you are told vs creativity
  • Understanding and accepting management vision
  • Believing and trusting the hierarchy
  • Respect of needs to measure and report
  • Communication between colleagues, between teams
  • Respect of the clients
  • etc.

At this point in time, I believe it is critical to future success of any organisation, I am working on putting together a text on this topic (not a handbook, because there is no simple solution that works for everyone) and would be interested in any suggestions that may facilitate changing the corporate culture, in small or large, local or global businesses.