we’re in changing times and the modern business environment is more complex, diverse and competitive than it has ever been. Thanks largely to technological advances over the past couple of decades, it is also changing at a more rapid rate than anything we have ever seen before. Little wonder that many commentators, from Forbes Magazine to Jeremy Corbyn, have been making reference to the phrase “fourth industrial revolution,” when talking about the 21st century business landscape.

Guiding people through changing times 

The problem is that, as a species, humans are very funny about change. We have a tendency to fear it, or at the very least treat it with suspicion. Yet change we must, if we want to thrive in the digital business age. Those at the top of the corporate ladder — the CEOs and executive leadership teams — are ostensibly charged with the responsibility of managing their people throughout the organisation and guiding them through the changes in culture that are necessary to drive the business forward to continuing success.

While the leadership team certainly has a critical role in guiding and influencing change, the concept of doing so within an entire organisation is more than one person can achieve at the click of his or her fingers. Cultural change is a process that takes time and will only become truly embedded under the following circumstances:

  • Those within the organisation understand the reasoning and logic behind change
  • They have a genuine belief that change will bring benefits
  • They trust the leadership team
  • They are motivated to follow those that lead in bringing about change

Clearly, business leaders have the power to make or break their employees’ commitment to bringing about cultural change. Executive coaching is a way to help them achieve their goals.

Understanding the culture

Before we can talk about changing it, it is important that we have a clear vision of what we mean by an organisation’s culture. Essentially, this term refers to the attitudes, beliefs, behaviours and assumptions that underpin the company’s particular methods of conducting its day-to-day business. While the corporate culture can have a significant impact on the business’s success or failure, its actual characteristics are not always so easy to define, especially from within the eye of the storm.

Within a large organisation, particularly one that is split across multiple locations or that has heavily siloed business units, there might even be a number of subcultures in operation.

For an executive leader, it is not always a simple matter to see how your own behaviour guides and reinforces the overall culture.

The role of the coach

Assessing, understanding and changing the company culture is often necessary to better meet the company’s strategic goals in a constantly evolving business environment. In the same way that the organisation will call in a building contractor to change the office layout, the CEO will call upon the services of a coach to help design and implement a strategic plan for changing corporate culture.

The coach will be involved at every step of the process, including the following:

  • Defining the key characteristics of future culture that is to be attained
  • Identifying and resolving the problems, barriers or causes of resistance to the proposed change
  • Providing direct coaching and guidance to key managers in various areas of the organisation on how to promulgate the cultural change and lead from the front

The third bullet point is of particular significance in large and complex organisations. The process of coaching towards cultural change in itself needs to be properly managed, coordinated and supported with the right attitude and expertise from the top, in order to succeed at every level.

In other circumstances, coaching might be necessary at departmental or business unit level, in order to bring the overall culture into full alignment.

An important consideration that should not be underestimated is the way in which the benefits of coaching can be cascaded throughout the organisation — in effect, allowing the mentored to become the mentors.

The effect of culture on performance

We have discussed what corporate culture means and how it can be influenced with the right coaching and support, but you might still be unconvinced as to the influence that it can have on the company’s overall performance — so let’s look at some numbers.

According to data from Galpin and Herndon, a company’s culture has a significant impact on the overall bottom line, and in many cases can be the deciding factor in the success or failure of a merger. Their survey data found that some 57 per cent of companies felt that resistance to change placed the success of their merger at risk, while more than a third said cultural compatibility was a deciding factor in a successful merger or acquisition. Almost three quarters said that success depended on leadership and the right tone from the top.

Other studies have shown that basic cultural values, such as the overall mission, ethos, and standards have a direct influence on growth, customer satisfaction, staff turnover, return on investment and other metrics that impact directly on the bottom line.

Using coaching to drive change 

So, what sort of situations might you face in your organisation that could be helped with a strong executive coaching programme to drive cultural change? There are a wide variety, but a few common examples are as follows:

  • Improving employee commitment and motivation in a challenging marketplace
  • Enhancing employee focus on turnover, profitability, efficiency and collaboration
  • Anticipating any likely problems during acquisition integration processes and putting together a plan to deal with any conflict or competition
  • Helping a new CEO or executive team craft its new vision for an organisation

When it comes down to it, organisational culture is hugely powerful, yet it is not always easy to define and it can be even harder to change. Executive coaching can aid you in understanding, assessing and shaping the culture of your organisation, helping you to guide your business forward to greater success in the changing business landscape.

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