Organisational culture includes the language, norms and beliefs shared by employees within the organisation. It is the philosophy that guides the company in a particular direction and the rules for effectively working with others. It is the unconscious rules that new starters need to embrace quickly if they want to fully fit in. Management usually sets the tone in the organisation with subordinates falling in line and eventually mimicking their actions.
Organisations who want to do things differently to become more efficient or competitive in the marketplace may decide that a culture change or slight cultural shift is required. For example, an organisation that is quite rigid may decide that being more ‘agile’ in their outlook, ways of working and structure, will help them stay up to date with the industry and remain relevant with Customers, thus providing services that will bring competitive advantage. Another organisation may decide that knowledge capture and sharing is essential for the longevity of the business and currently it is not on anyone’s agenda. Whilst yet another organisation may view innovation and creativity as the way forward to set themselves apart from the competition.
These initiatives all require a change in culture and one thing they all have in common is the need for leadership or Senior Management to be on board.
The role of Senior Management
Organisational culture is initially created by Senior Management even though sub-cultures could evolve within the organisation forming unique cultural sub-units. Senior Management also hold the right authoritative status to dictate and break organisational norms. Hence there is a strong argument to support the fact that Senior Management and organisational culture are tightly coupled and their behaviour can influence the success of the culture change initiative.
Change Managers involved in the culture change process should therefore coach Senior Management and remind them of their role and the critical nature.
In culture change Senior Management should:
1. Set the vision and direction of the change and communicate this to staff (CEO specifically)
2. Model the way i.e. Be the change that you want employees to follow
3. Be involved at every stage of the culture change – Can be top level but show interest
4. Deal with resistance
5. Be visible to staff during the change (Extremely important for the CEO)
6. Communicate at key points in the process
7. Be prepared to take the heat and show their human side i.e. Identification with staff is key
8. Keep the momentum going and be willing to have follow up activities to make sure the change is successful
The above list is not easy to accomplish and hence a steering committee with the key Senior Stakeholders would offer the necessary support that is needed for an initiative of this nature. Senior Management should also take time before the process starts to do self introspection to determine if they can actually live out the new standards for the organisation and determine if the new standards are actually achievable. Actions and words need to be aligned and then gradually, this new way of working will be practiced without a second thought. There are so many other factors that affect culture change and the role of Senior Management is just one small but crucial part.
Finally, patience is key, organisational culture is not changed overnight. A fully engaged Senior Management approach however, can increase the chances of having a successful cultural change initiative.