Culture Change

By John Murashige

Managing Director, P4 Advisors

“If we can just get them to understand what needs to be done, we’ll get the results we want.”

An organization falls short on delivery of their results.  Leadership has determined that a culture change is required to better results.  A culture that causes our organization to focus on delivery of our key results will lead to success is the thought.  “Let’s get someone to help us with this work.”  And so the journey goes.

This pattern often repeats itself every 3-5 years.  Why are we caught in this spiral? Maybe we didn’t bring in the right consultant?  Maybe this time we’ll get it right? Maybe we didn’t identify what really needed to be changed?

To change the culture of an organization, we must first know what its culture really is.  An organization’s culture is a derived directly from its systems, processes, practices, totems, and taboos.  Without addressing those factors, an organization’s culture will never change. 

“You can bring in the best experts that help organizations lead culture change, but without leadership’s commitment to the necessary changes, any change will be short lived.”  In other words, don’t pay for a consultant if you don’t want to make the journey.

What does it take?  Let’s look at this from an individual basis.  You are who you are based on your family, your friends and your experiences.  No one can change you unless there is some new, emotionally impactful experience that you had to live through which changes your perspective. 

It is rare that another person, who is coaching you, can make a fundamental change in who you are.  Only you can change you.  In most cases, you return to your “old self” once they are gone.  Why should we think that an organization could be any different?  Bottom line, it’s not.

A leader must be committed to the notion that fundamental change is required for business success.  Who can help me lead this change?  Who will be a “blocker” and must go?  What will we celebrate?  What will we despise?  How will we accomplish the tasks that will lead to success? 

What will we be doing differently vs. today? These questions and many more must be answered before embarking on an organizational culture change.  Without this fundamental information, you are setting out on a random walk.

Although there are a number of models to help introduce a culture change into an organization, the following are key.

  1. A Driving Desire: There must be some compelling reason to drive an organizational culture change.  It could be falling short on desired results, a fundamental shift in the market place, or a compelling new competitor. Whatever the reason, there must be a driving desire in leadership to make a change happen in the organization.
  1. Begin With The End State: What would you see when you are in that new organizational culture?  How will your organization be acting?  What behaviors will you be celebrating that’s different from today?  What behaviors will you be discouraging?  Why?  Understanding and defining that end state culture you want is a key first step.  It will help you identify those things that you want to stop doing now and those new practices that you should be doing.
  1. Make Necessary Changes: As difficult as it might be, a new culture cannot develop and grow with the same people leading your organization.  What new skill sets will you need?  Who will be an anchor?  Address those as quickly as you can as the talent and capabilities you need are out there.  Not making necessary leadership changes will only lead to stagnation.