There are plenty of articles that define culture, explain what a high performance culture looks like and gives angles on creating culture. The purpose of this article is to provide direction for anyone tasked with creating culture change. It is assumed that you understand what culture is, you have decided to make a change, and you want to know how to successfully implement a culture change.
Preparing for Change
To successfully change culture there are some prerequisites to success. These prerequisites include change clarity, change commitment, change capacity, change capability and change effectiveness which are needed to successfully accomplish the culture change. The purpose of evaluating the presence of these prerequisites is to prevent obstacles that would otherwise delay or stymie the culture change.
Think of these Culture Change Prerequisites as due diligence for culture change success. Just as you perform due diligence before any significant business transaction, it’s critical to perform due diligence in preparation for culture change.
Prerequisites for Success
- Change Clarity – to be successful change must be understood and valued. That’s impossible if the change cannot be explained clearly. There are two crucial components to change clarity.
- Definition of Success – This is also referred to as a vision. Unfortunately, visions can be dull, flat and missing critical components. A multi-dimensional definition of success provides clarity about the rules of the game, who is playing and how we win; it’s the Future in 3D. This answers the question, “what does success look like?”
- Case for Change – it’s essential that the reason for the change is fully understood by the people undergoing change. Understanding increases the motivation to change and reduces resistance because the reason for the change is clear. The change explanation must be both relevant and meaningful. It helps the people understand how the change connects to them personally and to their view of the organization. The case for change answers the question, “why?”
- Change Commitment – culture change begins at the top. There must be courageous leaders who are willing to do whatever it takes to be successful. Culture is a leadership issue and it cannot be delegated. Without strong leadership, culture change will sputter and burn out. Commitment is needed in abundant quantities in order to overcome the change hurdles, pockets of resistance and status quo malaise. It takes time to do culture change well. In this instant society, the commitment to long term change fades over time.
- Change Capacity – change saturation is a common cause of organizational dysfunction and change failure. Terrific, talented people reach their capacity to absorb change and they check out. Every person has their own “change sponge” that has a maximum amount of absorption. Both personal and professional changes decrease the change capacity. Employees become disengaged when they run out of capacity. All the leadership commitment, compelling cases for change and brilliant change strategies in the world are irrelevant if you do not assess and manage change capacity.
- Change Capability – how well does the organization adapt to change? Do managers and leaders have the skills to effectively communicate, model and lead change? Change capability is the organizations ability to do what’s needed for the change to be embraced and the intended results delivered. A McKinsey study(1) of forty projects compared expected and actual returns on investment to change capability and determined there is a direct correlation between the two. Programs with above average change capability realized 143 percent of expected value while programs with below average capability realized just 35 percent of expected value.
- Change Effectiveness – this is the historical experience of change within the organization. Has there been a pattern of success in previous change initiatives? Change effectiveness is about evaluating the organizational memory for the past successes and failures of change in order to learn from them. It’s about identifying what’s unique and good about the organization that can be leveraged in the context of the culture change.
Assess Readiness for Culture Change against these prerequisites, by answering the following questions:
- When leaders convey information it is sincere, complete (all information needed to be successful is shared) and truthful. Yes or No
- When leaders make a commitment they follow through. Yes or No
- The success of the culture change is the top priority of leadership. Yes or No
- The leadership team owns this change and agrees on both the motivation for the change and the definition of success. Yes or No
- The culture change has been adequately resourced. Yes or No
- There is a shared understanding of the need for the culture change. Yes or No
- The organization has a history of adapting to change well. Yes or No
- Although the pace of change and extent of change around here is significant, it is also manageable. Yes or No
- Leaders and managers are skilled in leading through change. Yes or No
- Is the organization ready for this change? Yes or No; why?
Measure Twice, Cut Once
If the answer to more than three of these questions is no, then stop and consider how to improve the clarity, commitment, capacity or capability before embarking on a significant culture change project.
One of the first steps to preparing for successful culture change is to assess the sufficiency of change clarity, change commitment, change capacity, change capability and change effectiveness. In addition to the questions listed above, there are formal assessments that can be used to determine the organizations readiness for change.
The benefit of determining readiness for culture change is that the prerequisites to success can be worked on and improved prior to undertaking a doomed change.
How did you do on the prerequisites above? Are you ready for change or is there room to prepare? And what can you add to or share about this process? I welcome your thoughts.
(1) LaClair, Jennifer A. and Rao, Ravi P. 2002. Helping Employees Embrace Change. McKinsey Quarterly (2002), no.4.