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Organizational culture

Organizational Culture Transformation

Culture change cannot be achieved through top-down mandate. It lives in the collective hearts and habits of people and their shared perception of “how things are done around here.”

The most significant change often comes through social movements,

We often think of movements as starting with a call to action. But movement research suggests that they actually start with emotion — a diffuse dissatisfaction with the status quo and a broad sense that the current institutions and power structures of the society will not address the problem.

The social movements typically start small. They begin with a group of passionate enthusiasts who deliver a few modest wins. While these wins are small, they are powerful in demonstrating efficacy to nonparticipants, and they help the movement gain steam. The movement really gathers force and scale once this group successfully co-opts existing networks and influencers.

Practices for Leading a Cultural Movement

Leaders should not be too quick or simplistic in their translation of social movement dynamics into change management plans. That said, leaders can learn a lot from the practices of skillful movement makers.

Frame the issue. Successful leaders of movements are often the masters of framing situations in terms that stir emotion and incite action.Framing can also apply social pressure to conform.  In terms of organizational culture change, a leader can do this by framing change within the organization’s purpose — the “why we exist” question.

Demonstrate quick wins. Movement makers are very good at recognizing the power of celebrating small wins. When it comes to organizational culture change, leaders too often fall into the trap of declaring the culture shifts they hope to see. Instead, they need to spotlight examples of actions they hope to see more of within the culture. Sometimes, these examples already exist within the culture, but at a limited scale. Other times, they need to be created.

Harness networks. Effective movement makers are extremely good at building coalitions, bridging disparate groups to form a larger and more diverse network that shares a common purpose. And effective movement makers know how to activate existing networks for their purposes.

Create safe havens. Movement makers are experts at creating or identifying spaces within which movement members can craft strategy and discuss tactics. These are spaces where the rules of engagement and behaviors of activists are different from those of the dominant culture. They’re microcosms of what the movement hopes will become the future.

Embrace symbols. Movement makers are experts at constructing and deploying symbols and costumes that simultaneously create a feeling of solidarity and demarcate who they are and what they stand for to the outside world. Symbols and costumes of solidarity help define the boundary between “us” and “them” for movements.

The Challenge to Leadership

When it comes to culture change, authority of the position to order a mandate should be used sparingly. It is easy to overuse one’s authority in the hopes of accelerating transformation.

It is also easy for an enterprise leader to shy away from organizational friction. Harmony is generally a preferred state, after all. And the success of an organizational transition is often judged by its seamlessness.

In a movements-based approach to change, a moderate amount of friction is positive. A complete absence of friction probably means that little is actually changing. Look for the places where the movement faces resistance and experiences friction. They often indicate where the dominant organizational design and culture may need to evolve.

And remember that culture change only happens when people take action. So start there. While articulating a mission and changing company structures are important, it is often a more successful approach to tackle those sorts of issues after you’ve been able to show people the change you want to see.[1]

The following schematic model provides essentials of a culture transformation design model.

According to the Barrett Values Model, cultural transformation is evolutionary in nature. The whole journey of change covers both internal and external environments and the gradual sense of identity regarding who we are. “Vibrant cultures have high levels of performance because they create internal cohesion, attract talented people, and inspire employees to go the extra mile.”[2]

Source: The Barrett Model – Barrett Values CentreTanya Lapinski

The literature available on the subject is an ocean. Here is what is good enough to understand the basics.

Further reading:


[1] Changing Company Culture Requires a Movement, Not a Mandate by Bryan Walker and Sarah A. Soule

[2] Importance of a culture transformation