Culture is not a thing, but it is a huge part of change

June 28, 2023
Mark Sharp

Organisational change can be a tough nut to crack for any business. It involves a lot of effort, dedication, and, most importantly, a supportive organisational culture. Culture shapes employees' mindsets, values, and beliefs, influencing their perception of change.

Unfortunately, culture is becoming the new buzzword thrown around to be the saviour of workplaces in a post-covid world. Culture is just an umbrella term encompassing the norms in human societies, specifically in business environments, the Values, Behaviour & Beliefs it wants to see.

"Culture is not a thing. It's a metaphor. It's a concept we use to describe the patterns of behaviour and beliefs of groups of people. But it's not a tangible thing that exists on its own." — Kenji Yoshino

"Culture" shapes every aspect of an organisation, from its values and beliefs to its communication style, decision-making processes and employees' attitudes towards change. A positive culture that promotes innovation, creativity, and risk-taking can encourage employees to be more open to change. In contrast, a negative culture that fosters fear, resistance, and negativity can make employees sceptical and less receptive to change.

Therefore, it is critical to understand how culture impacts change efforts and how leaders can create a "culture" that supports change.

Here are some of the more significant impacts of change:

Culture (or attitude) can help or hinder change efforts

Culture can either support or undermine change efforts. When the culture is aligned with the desired change, it can accelerate the change process. Conversely, when the culture is resistant to change, it can create significant barriers and make change efforts much more difficult.

Culture (or perception) influences how employees perceive change

Culture shapes employees' beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours. Therefore, organisational culture heavily influences employees' perception of change. A positive culture that promotes innovation and risk-taking can make employees more receptive to change. In contrast, a hostile culture that encourages fear and resistance can make employees more resistant to change.

Culture (or poor communication) impacts the success of change initiatives

Organisational culture can impact the success of change initiatives in many ways. A culture that promotes collaboration, open communication, and a willingness to learn can increase the likelihood of success. In contrast, a culture that fosters silos, closed-door communication, and resistance to learning can undermine change initiatives' success.

Culture (or adaptability) determines the speed of change

Culture can influence the speed at which change occurs. A culture that promotes agility, flexibility, and adaptability can enable companies to respond quickly to change. In contrast, a culture that values stability, predictability, and control can slow change efforts. So, what can leaders do to create a culture that supports change?

Here are some tips:

  1. Start with a clear vision and strategy
  2. A clear vision and strategy can provide a unifying purpose for the organisation and help align the culture with the desired change. Leaders must communicate the vision and strategy clearly and repeatedly so employees understand the organisation's direction.
  3. Nurture open communication
  4. Open communication is critical to creating a culture that supports change. Leaders must encourage employees to speak up and share their ideas, concerns, and feedback. This can help identify potential barriers to change and develop solutions to overcome them.
  5. Encourage collaboration and teamwork
  6. Collaboration and teamwork can help break down silos and encourage a culture of innovation. Leaders must create opportunities for employees to work together across departments, functions, and geographies to promote collaboration.
  7. Lead by example
  8. Leaders must model the behaviours they want to see in the organisation. This includes being open to feedback, taking risks, and embracing change. Leaders who lead by example can inspire employees to follow their lead.

The role of culture in successful organisational change cannot be overstated. Culture shapes every aspect of the organisation, and leaders must create a culture that supports change. By understanding it is more than just one thing, you can target the elements you want to change specifically.

Leaders can help create a culture that enables change and drives business success by starting with a clear vision and strategy, encouraging open communication, encouraging collaboration and teamwork, and leading by example.

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