Cultural Transformation

Organisational culture, the set of shared values, beliefs, and assumptions of the organisation, plays a large role in organisational effectiveness and performance. One of the main barriers to successful organisational transformation is the culture of the workplace.

Over time, organisational cultures generally evolve along with business strategy, and they become mutually reinforcing.  The problem comes when the organisation’s leadership decides to implement a new strategy or change of direction that requires changes to the way people think and act at work. 

From the perspective of organisational transformation, neglecting cultural change is one of the factors known to contribute to the high rates of transformation project failures. However, a cultural change program should support strategic objectives. If culture becomes the main focus and doesn’t add value to the strategic objectives of a business, then the costs may outweigh the potential returns.

Pros

  • It can create a better work environment by improving employees’ day-to-day interactions.
  • Culture fuels the entire organization; individual performance gains translate into gains across the entire business.
  • It can increase organisational agility and resilience needed to adapt to continual change.

Cons

  • The time it actually takes to break-through and change existing attitudes and behaviours.
  • The potential negative impact on engagement and performance when efforts stall and fail.
  • Processes and systems must also be updated to reward the expected new cultural norms.

Recommended resources:

 The International Council of Management Consulting Institutes

Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement focuses on increasing the effectiveness and/or efficiency of an organisation to fulfil its policy and objectives. It is not limited to quality initiatives. Improvement in business strategy, business results, customer, employee and supplier relationships can be subject to continual improvement. Put simply, it means ‘getting better all the time’.

W. Edwards Deming, a pioneer of the field, saw it as part of the ‘system’ whereby feedback from the process and customer were evaluated against organisational goals. The fact that it can be called a management process does not mean that it needs to be executed by ‘management’; but rather merely that it makes decisions about the implementation of the delivery process and the design of the delivery process itself.

From the perspective of organisational transformation, identifying what needs to be improved as opposed to what needs to be disrupted allows for a balanced approach to maintaining delivery flow and the required innovation. It also allows leaders to direct dedicated teams to both efforts to avoid overheating the organisation by focusing the same teams on both simultaneously.

Pros

  • A continuous improvement in efficiency.
  • Higher employee engagement as they are expected to do more than just show up for work.
  • Higher customer satisfaction through higher quality and response to their feedback.

Cons

  • Improvements are made in small, incremental steps.
  • It can stifle rather than reward creative thinking.
  • Improvements can become disconnected from achieving business objectives.

Recommended resources:

The W. Edwards Deming Institute

Change Curve (Elisabeth Kübler-Ross)

In 1969, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote about the “5 Stages of Death” also known as the “5 Stages of Grief®” , “5 Stages of Loss®” , or just “The 5 Stages.” She identified these stages as defence mechanisms or coping mechanisms to change, loss, and/or shock. The stages were not meant to describe a linear or step-by-step process.

Nonetheless, these 5 stages have been laid out as Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, as this is a common path in understanding how people react emotionally to significant change or loss. It is one of the most widely used models in organisational change efforts.

From the perspective of organisational transformation, this model provides a good basis for managers and leaders to understand how their teams will react, and to identify and react to problems early before they escalate and become real issues.

Pros

  • It is objective as it focuses only on people’s natural reactions to change.
  • It is unbiased by any industry or organisation and can therefore be applied to any change.
  • It is easy to understand and use.

Cons

  • It does not take into account that individuals may react differently.
  • It is based on observations and can be considered to lack empirical evidence.
  • It is unclear how the stages are affected by each other as they are non-linear and some individuals may not experience all stages.

Recommended Resources:

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Foundation

Change Agent

A change agent in the context of organisational transformation is an individual who knows how to get people in an organization involved in solving their own problems. They can be internal or external to the organisation.

Internal change agents are individuals who are skilled at understanding human behaviour and have some form of expertise in the behavioural sciences and the intervention technology of Organisational Development (OD). While this type of expertise is most common within the staff function of HR, it is also increasingly common practise to train people from the line in OD. This can prove a more successful approach as it provides a more natural evolution in the change mechanism of an organisation.

From the perspective of organisational transformation, while external support is often necessary to create the initial momentum, it is imperative that the sustainability is assured through internal change agents at different levels of the organisation.

Pros

  • Existing credibility of change agents within the organisation.
  • Internal knowledge and network facilitates rapid detection of political issues that can derail efforts.
  • Development of internal OD capabilities beyond HR to train future change agents.

Cons

  • Line resistance to give up the high-performers who tend to be the most obvious and successful change agents.
  • Additional investment necessary to resource and fund the development of dedicated change agents.
  • Skilled change agents become highly poachable and may leave unless a formal career program is put in place to provide perspectives beyond their immediate role as change agent.

Recommended resources:

McKinsey & Company: The Change Agent Challenge

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