Business academic David Needle describes organisational culture as the collective beliefs, values and principles of its members, a dynamic and evolving habitat that arises out of the continually bubbling brew of history, product, market, management style, type of employees and, ultimately, national culture.
Organisational culture has a byzantine complexity. It’s “performed” on a moment-to-moment and day-to-bay basis through the behaviours, beliefs, conversations and actions of its members. It includes the organisation’s vision, its values and norms, systems, language, beliefs, as well as the assumptions and habits of the human beings who practise it.
When an organisation’s culture is well aligned and robustly embraced by the collective of individuals who operate it, it doesn’t remain static: it evolves, promoting internal change to adapt successfully to changing environmental/market conditions.
Organisational cultures evolve gradually over time, but every now and then, circumstances demand a more rapid change – a new business strategy or integrating an acquisition, for example. How can something as intricate as culture change radically and quickly without risking self-destruction?
I’d like to focus today on one crucial aspect of culture change. There are plenty of others, but this strikes me as foundational if change is to be effected successfully. It can be summed up in two words: “communicate constantly.”
Change evokes anxiety (mergers and acquisitions, for example, are often accompanied by job losses). To keep people on board while the change is underway, nerves will need to be settled. It begins before the change event/process begins, in the form of concise and consistent messages to employees, preferably highlighting the benefits.
The aim here is to keep surprise (which can morph quickly into shock, panic and resentment) to a minimum. As Gestalt consultant Herb Stevenson once put it, employees need to be assured that change involves an interplay of forces: forces for change, yes, but also forces for sameness and continuity.
I’ll return to this subject over the next few weeks.