by Jo Geraghty and Derek Bishop

Embedding a culture change

Only once the departmental leaders, team leaders and leaders without a title have come on board is it appropriate to take the final step to cascade the changes throughout the organisation. With the strategy fully mapped out and with the full leadership team working alongside key influencers, this should be relatively straightforward, especially if the implementation team is prepared to meet and overcome any barriers along the way (see Overcoming obstacles to culture change). We’ll look at barriers to change later on. As with the implementation team, it is important that change is lead rather than being seen to be imposed and that sufficient resources are put in place to help employees to assimilate new ways of working, new attitudes and new values.

Tips for success

Employees will look to the leadership to ‘be the change’. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ has been the cause of many an organisation foundering in a welter of double standards. Leaders who fail to act up to their own high standards will bring the organisation down swifter than any other factor.

And this brings us on to a second warning: organisational culture is a living, ever-changing organism. This means that leaders can’t afford to sit back complacently once a culture change exercise has completed in the expectation that the new status quo will remain unchanged. New employees, customer and supplier interactions, technological change and the wider business world will all play their part in modifying the newly-set culture.

Even without all of these influences, there is still a danger that old habits will creep back in and attitudes and behaviours will slowly move away from the ideal. Leaders therefore need to be vigilant and, more than that, they need to revisit the culture on a regular basis, undertaking cultural assessments and employee engagement reviews.

The trick is to understand when movement away from the norm is positive and when it can negatively impact on the desired culture. For example, when instilling a culture of innovation, some level of failure is necessary as a development and learning point, but understanding when failure can be turned into a positive outcome and when it is as a result of cultural failings is an important milestone for the leadership.