This article will explore the connection between organizational culture and changes, and what businesses can do to manage both. Information on how to safely and effectively prompt change and how to prepare for issues regarding culture and changes will also be discussed.
Culture heavily contributes to how staff members interact with each other and with clients in a business.1 It's what fosters both positive collaboration and competition, and ties the varied components present in the workplace together. Organizational culture sets the business' tone and impacts its brand. It's critical that businesses understand what it can do for them, especially if they are trying enact change and maintain or improve their organizational behavior. While most businesses and business leaders are aware of this fact, they don't always act upon it within the company. This makes things unnecessarily complicated and generates problems for everyone.
When organizational changes are taken into account, the value of culture for businesses increases. Due to the tied state of organizational culture and changes, things can get a bit complicated if leaders are not careful in their approach. The culture of a business controls how things are expressed and done. How changes are implemented and where will be dependent on the limitations placed by the traits of a business' organizational culture.2 The leadership's ability to manage change in the business will be similar to their ability to manage its culture; if they can't do one effectively, the other won't work out as intended. Unfortunately, not a lot of businesses seem to be able to do so. In a 2013 survey on culture and change management from Strategy&, only about 35% of those surveyed stated that their company effectively manages culture in the business.3 Most experts believe that this is a result of the approach that businesses take; too many ignore behavior and try to force change purely through actions instead.4 By ignoring the necessary components, they accomplish little in their goal in trying to achieve it the hard way. Worse, it leads them to waste valuable time, effort, resources, and money in the process and can potentially impact the business' productivity and quality.
Making changes to a business' organizational culture and behavior requires an understanding of its key principles. There's almost a systematic balance to organizational culture that needs to be maintained in order for it to be conductive for the business. Changes are made directly to its components, not to the system at large. Those components are not necessarily going to be the same detail-wise between businesses; it's unique to that business and those that work there. However, the key principles of organizational culture will largely remain the same:
- Motivation-The motivation behind how things operate in the business' culture will dictate quite a bit. It helps establish the group norms of the business' culture and keeps everyone in line.5 Remember that not all motivation is monetarily based. Motivation may also present a barrier to changes that would go against the overall motivations of the business. Individually, if a change in organizational culture make a person's motivations moot, they may be personally resistant.
- Attitudes-The attitudes and viewpoints of those in a business' organizational culture set its ethical tone and atmospheric conditions. Positive attitudes generate a positive culture and vise-versa. This is where most of the components of culture come from in business, and they will need to be considered when it comes to making changes. A proposed change cannot go against the attitudes and views of the staff or it will face opposition due to it being seen as unethical.
- Leadership-Organizational culture involves two types of leadership: formal leadership based on position and authority, and informal leadership based on influence.6 The people who fit into either category control and guide the paths that the business' culture follows, including ensuring that everyone adheres to the rules it sets. When problems arise, they are the ones that the rest of the staff look to for guidance. They can be incredibly useful in orchestrating change in this way. Information regarding changes will be introduced through the business' leaders who will have the responsibility to help maintain the transition from new to old.
- Everyone's Human-You're dealing with living, breathing people in a business' culture, and they are going to be the primary source for its success. They cannot be left out of the discussion and you can't expect them to be okay with being excluded. If a business wants something to happen with its culture, the leadership needs to consider the human elements involved in the business. Any changes made need to take the employees into consideration. As people are not perfect, the changes will not be perfectly executed; there may be bumps and mistakes made before things settle down.
- Consider Environment-Environmental factors of a business and its culture-location, industry, size, economy-will always need to be considered when it comes to making any kind of decision. Changes that fall to take those aspects into account will most likely fall short and need further work for them to be effective. It doesn't matter if a change meshes with everything else; if it doesn't work with the environment it will stagnate instead of flourishing.
- Change is Gradual-Since there is so much to consider when it comes to organizational culture, it's understandable that changes will not be instantaneous. Most experts stress the importance of this when it comes to making successful organizational change, encouraging businesses and their leaders to view it as a journey instead of a single event.7 Pacing change allows for all the kinks to get worked out and any adjustments to be made. There's too much that can happen to warrant rushing through things.
Planning for and Prompting Change
Changes in the business world are inevitable and necessary. Progress and innovation cannot occur if things remain the same, no matter how well a business is thriving. All businesses will need to make a change to some part of their structure at some point, whether they instigate it on their own or are forced to. Planning for and prompting changes can put control over the situation into the hands of the business and its leadership. In order to do that, however, a few things need to be considered first:
- What Do You Have NOW?-The current culture and organizational behavior of a business will often be the thing that prompts changes in the first place. A business may be aware that it has to change or want to change, but it may not know what exactly needs to be done. Take a look at how things are now. What is or isn't working? What would you like to keep the same? What NEEDS to remain the same? These questions will usually provide a business with its reasons and motivations for change, and help guide it on its journey.8
- What Are Your Goals??-Consider both long-term and short-term goals in the business. A business' goals can often provide valuable information when changes are going to be made, especially regarding the approach and outcome of changes. Think about what the impact the proposed change(s) will do for those goals and if they are able to provide you with a case for the changes.
- Managing Obstacles-Change isn't going to be a perfectly smooth transition from old to new. There will undoubtedly be obstacles that can delay or prevent new elements from being added to the business. These can be financial, legal, structural, or ethical, and may involve the human elements of the business. These factors can easily prompt the need for change, but they can also prevent it.9 The changes themselves or their execution could be flawed in some way that prevents them from being successful.
- Looking at Practicality-How doable are these proposed changes? Is it going to be practical for the business and possible in the time frame that you want/need it to be done in? There is a difference between ambitious and impossible goals, although there may not seem like there is at times. Look at strategy when planning out changes to determine how practical and feasible they really are. This can help a business avoid harmful and costly obstacles.
- Method of Execution-Even the most strategically and perfectly planned series of changes will fail if they are not properly executed. How a change is implemented will impact its effectiveness and determine its effect on the business. Poorly executed changes can generate resistance amongst staff and clients, especially if a business fails to inform and prepare them for the situation.
- Who's Going to be Affected-Any changes in a business are going to involve people who are going to be affected in some way.10 That human element is crucial and should not be forgotten. If you do not properly consider the effect that a change will have on employees and customers, the business may be negatively impacted as a result. The changes could fail and there could possibly be legal and/or ethical consequences, especially when it comes to major changes.
When Things Go Awry
Things can still go awry when it comes to change regardless of how much time and effort a business puts into prevent that from happening. Mistakes can be made no matter how careful you are. There are always outside forces that can rear their ugly head and turn everything on its ear. How a business handles and prepares for such situations can make the greatest difference in making successful changes. Here are a few ways that businesses can deal with changes that go awry:
- Expecting the Unexpected-Things can happen without warning and there may be nothing that can be done to prevent them. Such unexpected obstacles may be predicted based on past experiences, but there's no guarantee that you will know when they'll strike. A business could implement a massive expansion full of changes in anticipation of continued success and the market could take a nosedive the very next day, for example. It's unexpected and isn't necessarily something that will be considered in planning. Businesses can try to take the unexpected into account with things like contingency plans while implementing changes. It won't necessarily stop problems in their tracks, but it can help reduce the damage when something happens.
- Calculate Risks-Failing to calculate the risks of an action can cause something unexpected to happen. Thorough analysis of all risk factors should be done early on in planning and throughout the execution of changes.11 It's easy to overlook something if you're not careful and then have it affect your plans later on. Analysis can also help a business discover things that they might not have been aware of, but can still impact changes.
- Flexibility-Too many businesses place their focus on perfectionism when implementing change that they become too rigid in their actions.12 They pile on their expectations and expect things to happen exactly as they planned it, without deviation. Unfortunately, that can cause things to fail when the plan encounters a problem. Ensuring and practicing some degree of flexibility when implementing change can help ease things through. It's less stressful and costly for the business and will most likely have a better end result.
- Structural Protections-Changes can only go so far without completely wiping the slate clean. Businesses sometimes fail to consider their organizational structure when implementing changes and meet resistance there. That framework is there to provide a foundation for change and should be built upon instead of being torn down. It offers protection for the business to ensure its continued survival and that it adheres to its basic principles.