How to create a company culture ready for change

getting your business ready for change

Change is constant in business and rapid technological advances are forcing companies to make significant changes. And frequently these changes need to be implemented rapidly.

Being able to swiftly adapt to new developments can be the difference between thriving and surviving, so we asked change implementation specialist, Philip Cox-Hynd, to outline how you can forge a company culture that embraces change.

To start with, producing a ‘culture’ that is ‘ready for change’ needs a bit of explanation.

I have been a strategic and cultural change consultant for 30 years, designing and implementing in-depth change projects with corporates such as Pfizer and Microsoft through to, what were, start-ups such as Made in Mind and Ella’s Kitchen. My experiences have helped me to identify 8 steps that are key to getting your business ready for change;

1. Understand what ‘Culture’ means

One of the biggest mistakes is to think of ‘culture’ as just the human or soft stuff. ‘Culture’ should be understood to mean everything from the desk you sit at to the behaviours you exhibit, to the processes you follow.

Culture, in it’s fullest meaning, should include the organisational ‘software’, (behaviours, attitudes, skill-sets etc), entwined with the ‘hardware’, (process, systems, structure, offices). Affect one without the other and change won’t stick.

As for creating a company that is ready for change, it is also worth examining what we mean by change.

2. Encourage agile thinking

In general terms there are two forms of change; organic change and planned change.

Organic change includes such things as changes in the market, the seasons, currency rates, technological advances. Life is a constant swirl of change.

Helping people to be agile of thought and for them to be practised in being unattached to ‘the way things used to be’ are mind-sets that need to be practised, if organic change is to be embraced.

3. Articulate the purpose of your company

Many think the purpose of a company is to make money or produce this product or that service. But then what? And does that motivate?

It is important to articulate an ongoing statement of purpose that is values driven and inspirational; the litmus test against which all goals and visions can be set and tested.

For example, NASA’s purpose has always been ‘to explore the universe for the benefit of mankind’.

4. Decide on goals and timescales

Co-create with your team a series of date bound and specific goals that can be “seen in the mind’s eye” i.e. they are visual, they constitute a vision.

The problem with many vision-goals is that they are not specific, nor measurable and not timed, so it is impossible to know when they have been achieved.

One of the most famous visions was spoken by JF Kennedy in 1962: “We will put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade”. This statement made a declaration which by 31st Dec 1969 was crystal clear as to the vision’s achievement or not.

It was one of many visions that always fitted NASA’s Purpose statement. Avoid saying “We will achieve XYZ in 3 years’ time” as when read 6 months later it will still say ‘3 years’ time’; no, put down the month and the year.

Creating a company culture that embraces change

5. Plan your route

Once you have an ongoing purpose and a set of vision-goals that will show in what way this purpose will be made real over the next 2-3 years, you then need to define how these goals will be delivered, the route if you will.

A fancy word for route is strategy. A good strategy document might be 1 or 2 pages of A4 with a series of simple bullet points.

It doesn’t need to be a book. It just needs to say what will be done by when and by whom, to achieve the vision-goals over the next 2-3 years.

Co-create this, and share it with everyone in the company, this helps inform what will need to change in the company and by when.

6. Radical Leadership

In ancient sailing times when ships were in shallow and dangerous waters, the most experienced sailor was called to the front of the vessel to depth gauge with a piece of string and a weight tied to one end.

Most sailors couldn’t swim so this knowledgeable sailor, which often was not an officer, had to have 2 critical qualities: firstly, the trust of the men, and secondly a clear understanding of where they were and where they were going.

The preferred weight on the end of their line was a piece of lead given its density, and so these guiding sailors were known as the lead-er.

Building trust through building radically honest relationships, ones that are real, respectful and robust, is one of the two vital factors of effective leadership; articulating clear direction as in purpose, vision and strategy is the second.

7. Ensure genuine engagement

Create an environment of ‘change by choice‘ as opposed to ‘change by imposition’. The key to creating the former lies with the depth of engagement created.

Very few people would undertake the seriousness of getting engaged to be married by sending a few emails to their intended or by taking them through a PowerPoint presentation.

Put this way, it becomes laughable to think that most forms of planned change within an organisation are usually introduced top down, with a PowerPoint presentation, or at best an away day. This is usually done with an expectation from the leadership that this will engage their staff in major changes that will affect their working lives.

True employee engagement needs to be earned via a series of honest two-way conversations explaining the objectives for change, the areas that have to be accepted, and therefore the areas that can be negotiated, i.e. what choices can be co-created such that a good proportion of the impending change feels like a critical mass of staff have a genuine say.

8. Change behaviours

Ensure you state behaviours if you are going to declare values.

I once attended a meeting at a big multinational and as it dawned on me that the person I was meeting with was 10, 20, then 30 minutes late, I looked up from reception into the atrium above to see 6 flags hanging down, each with a value written on them. The value flag I happened to be sitting under had ‘respect’ written on it.

Many months later and into the change project, we started to tackle how to make values real via specific behaviours. The problem is that take a value like respect and few will disagree with you, until you exhibit behaviour that is disrespectful to that individual.

The management team at this particular company realised that as an example, turning up to meetings late was disrespectful. So they introduced a locked door policy whereby meetings started on time and 5 mins afterwards, the door was locked.

As managers had bought into this behavioural change, they chose to role model this way of making real one of their values. Meetings ran on time from thereon in.

They applied similar defined behaviours to all of the other values; all part of making their culture not just ready for change, but able to exhibit choice-led change.

About the author

This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Philip Cox-Hynd, a change implementation specialist and author of Mindfulness and the Art of Change by Choice

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