People Powered Culture Change

Right people

As you lead through culture change are you “playing to win?”  Who is on your team?  Culture is all about people. In order to play to win you need to know who is on your team and make sure that the right people are in the right positions.

Throughout any change there are various roles that are played. Culture change is no different. There are the people who decide to make the change and the people impacted by the change. There are people who contextualize the change and there are teams that are assigned to “work on the change.”

Whatever your culture change approach, these are common roles that need filled during any Culture Change:

  • Leaders – decide to make the change, support the change and sustain the change. Leadership is essential in creating lasting culture change. Leaders are identified through their positional power in the organizational hierarchy. Culture change is every leader’s responsibility. They must be committed to the change and competent to lead the change. The responsibilities of change leaders include:
    • Effective communication demonstrated by clearly making the case for the change, repeatedly sharing the need for change and reinforcing the strategy, vision and values. Talking is insufficient. A leader must be accessible, listen and address feedback proactively. It’s easy to confuse message sending with true communication. Leaders cannot be a “talking head” they must remain active and play an ongoing role during culture change.
    • Engaging peers to support the change. This is horizontal leadership and is often referred to as building a coalition. All leaders must become advocates and hold each other accountable for demonstrating the changed behaviors. Nothing kills change quite like a leader who says one thing and behaves differently. A CEO I spoke with wanted to do culture change in order to make his employees work harder and achieve greater results. He believed that if they received some training it would help them become more productive. Unfortunately he didn’t understand that they were at capacity and his frequent hunting and fishing trips created dissonance with his message that they should work harder.
    • Providing resources to accomplish the culture change. Will power or wishing cannot make culture change happen. Leaders must set aside the time, money and people capacity to be successful. An idea doesn’t implement itself and a change without resources is destined to take longer and not fully achieve the intended outcomes. I worked with a Senior Executive who was implementing a significant strategy change. He recognized the need for a supporting culture change and ensured that there were adequate resources. This leader was committed to the change and resourced appropriately. Because of his dedication to strategic success he prioritized the culture change work and I helped the organization build change capacity through education, the introduction of the Change Advisory Network and setting up a Strategic Change Office.
  • Managers and Supervisors – play the role of translators. They give context and reinforce the message from leaders. They are also the ones who talk with the employees and help them to process the change. Managers and Supervisors are a potential source of resistance. They are dealing with their personal change challenges while expected to communicate their support of the change. Managers and supervisors need:
    • to know what is expected of them during the change
    • the skills and the tools to lead their people through the change
    • support and reinforcement as they go through their personal change process

The unique role that managers and supervisors play during culture change is often overlooked. They are essential because they provide the connection between the leaders and the front line employees. Managers and supervisors need skills and support during culture change initiatives. They need the skills to effectively communicate, coach and comfort their people. They need the support to deal with the downward pressure of leaders and the upward pressure of their team. Unfortunately because of their role, managers and supervisors are often pressed for time and are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of culture change. Leaders need to consider how to support this essential group in the midst of culture change.

  • Employees – “change target” is the official change management term for employees in the midst of culture change. A change target includes anyone that is directly impacted by the change. Change Targets are people. They move through change at different speeds and have different challenges to overcome along the way from the current culture to the ideal culture. To be embraced, a change effort must be coordinated in such a way that the change targets are engaged in the process. People generally aren’t opposed to change, they are opposed to being told to change. Rather than telling them about a finalized plan, bring employees in from the start, rely on their input and incorporate their ideas. The heart of change management is engaging this critical group of stakeholders by applying the right change levers to accomplish the desired outcomes.

The magic of change management is the ability to help people move from where they are to where they need to go with the least disruption. There are processes and methodologies galore to do change management. However, the essence of this discipline is to speed the change from your current culture to your ideal culture and get the full benefits of the change faster. There is a reason that the culture needs to change. So apply change management to get further, faster!

  • Culture Change Team – these are the people assigned to focus on the culture change. They have skills ranging from planning and project management to communications and change management. The value of a Culture Change Team is their dedicated focus on the success of the culture change. Members of the team may include:
    • Change Lead – responsible for facilitating the overall change process. This individual works closely with the leader and supports the execution of the change strategy. The Leader is ultimately accountable for the success of the change. The Change Lead supports the Leader and manages the Culture Change Team throughout the change process.
    • Change Team Members – support the culture change by performing specific tasks such as handling communications, measuring readiness, managing resistance and redesigning structures or rewards to ensure the culture change is sustained.
    • Change Agents – These are employees from across an organization that are intentionally selected. They help support the change by implementing processes, educating employees, and serving as a role model for the culture change. A successful team of change agents has clearly defined roles, responsibilities and the right skills including the ability to influence and the ability to communicate effectively.
    • Change Champions – in addition to change agents, change champions are recruited as a means of further penetrating the organization. They extend the change team’s capacity to replicate skills and tailor messages so that they’re relevant to employees at a local level throughout the organization. They must be part of the organization’s informal network and have the ability bridge disconnected groups. The culture champions serve to formalize your informal grapevine. They open new communication channels within the organization be serving to send and receive messages at deeper levels.

The purpose of getting clear on these roles is to ensure that the right people are in the right roles to support your culture change initiative.  Build a winning culture change team by identifying the people in your organization who can serve in these various roles.

Is your change team in place? Are the right people in the right positions? What other ideas can you add? Please share them below. 

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Vice President, Brighton Leadership Group

Scott Beilke is Vice President at Brighton Leadership Group, a consultancy that helps leaders create flourishing workplaces by developing constructive cultures of speed and agility, creating healthy environments that attract and retain top talent and growing authentic leaders whose people power extraordinary performance. He is a strategic advisor to executive teams and boards of large, mid-market and emerging organizations throughout the world. He is a contributing author to the 2014 book - Build the Culture Advantage, Deliver Sustainable Performance with Clarity and Speed, and a founding faculty member of

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