Culture Change – Focus on the tangibles

11 Aug Culture Change – Focus on the tangibles

Organisational Culture. Often defined as ‘the way we do things around here’, is a melting pot of individual and collective behaviours, attitudes, values and beliefs. Culture is often cited as an enabler for superior organisational performance – but what can you do when it becomes more hindrance than help?

I was talking with an old and trusted colleague of mine recently about culture change programs. We often get clients approach us and identify a requirement for what I call the ‘culture change panacea’. This refers to a perception that you can magically change an organisation’s culture and as a result all the negative things impacting on or occurring within that organisational will automatically fix themselves.

Whilst culture is a very real thing in organisations, when designing a change or transformational program I often find it far more useful to focus on more tangible things like behaviours, skills, systems and processes. My colleague and I identified 5 key areas to consider in terms of shifting towards a high performing culture:

1. Strategic Alignment
2. Organisational Design
3. Capability & Performance
4. Communication & Engagement
5. Leadership

Admittedly this list falls short of being an all-encompassing model of organisational culture. However, I do believe that the majority of negative ‘culture’ related issues can be mapped back to these areas. I also believe that when designing a tangible culture change initiative, using these areas as the key transformation levers is an excellent starting point for achieving the ultimate outcome of changing those individual and collective behaviours, attitudes and beliefs.

1. Strategic Alignment – Linking people with purpose

This is all about ensuring that there is a clear line of sight in the way that the organisation defines strategic intent and articulates required outputs and objectives. Organisations that fail to do this effectively will often find it difficult to define and measure success and align the work effort in a way that optimises performance.

In assessing how aligned the strategic imperative is, here are the questions to ask:

• Does the organisation have a clearly articulated vision or overarching purpose?
• Are there clearly articulated objectives that cascade through Business Units / Divisions?
• Do staff have clear objectives and goals?
• Do staff understand how their role and performance impacts on others?
• Is there a collaborative process utilised to set business objectives and assess performance?

2. Organisational Design – Structure supporting success

Organisational design focuses on how the organisational structure, operating model and work practices are developed to facilitate performance. Poor organisational design not only leads to misalignment, but also directly to work practice inefficiency. In assessing organisational design, the following issues need to be considered:

• Are the organisational structure and operating model aligned with the business requirements?
• Are work practices effective and efficient?
• Do staff have the right tools to do their work well?

3. Capability & Performance – Delivering the mission

A culture of good performance starts with good people. And ensuring that an organisation has good people starts with understanding the required capabilities. These questions help to determine whether capability and performance are aligned with a high performing culture:

• Does the organisation know what skills and capabilities it needs?
• Are there programs and structures in place to accurately define and measure capability?
• Is the organisation building capability in the right areas?
• Are staff sufficiently recognised and rewarded for their capability and performance levels?

4. Communication & Engagement – Connecting and collaborating

Communication is one of the most important organisational processes, but it rarely gets the attention it deserves. High performing organisations have a knack of getting their people engaged in the organisation at a variety of levels. In assessing this lever the following key questions should be considered:

• Do staff feel that they have a voice?
• Are the formal and informal communication mechanisms working effectively?
• How effective are the feedback loops?
• Do staff get on OK at a social level?
• How engaged are staff in their work / the team / the organisational unit / the organisation as a whole?

5. Leadership – The tone at the top

Effective leadership plays a critical role in shaping the culture of an organisation. Many theorists have argued that the fastest way to achieve wholesale cultural change is to bring in new leadership into an organisation. Whilst this form of dramatic structural change isn’t always warranted (or realistic), leadership performance is a key consideration in this space:

• Are the Leaders trusted?
• Are the Leaders competent?

Culture Change is difficult for a number of reasons. It is difficult to accurately define the problem, establish a baseline and measure success. By focusing on more tangible elements of the organisation, the culture change problem can be re-framed into a more pragmatic program of work.

The Consulting Space has helped clients analyse, baseline, plan and implement transformation programs across a number of sectors. Contact Adam Libbis on 0417 454 247 or via for more information.