Ignoring Corporate Culture Can Kill a Transformation

by JoeWhite 26. March 2010 03:59

If I could only pick one thing to represent the largest mistake a change agent can make when implementing Lean or any other significant organizational change, it would probably be failing to manage the cultural change.

All too often, we fail to consider the impact that a change that will have on the culture of an organization prior to launch.  Culture is essentially the sum of all core beliefs, convictions, principles, habits, history and social norms that drive organizational behavior; and every organization has a unique one.  If we carefully consider the culture and how a change will be received within the context of it, we can implement countermeasures to address any foreseen issues and tailor our launch plan based on our assessment and observations.

For instance, if an organizational and cultural assessment identifies a strong resistance to ideas that come from outside the organization or from non tenured employees, we may need to include employees with more seniority in each improvement activity and may even need to limit the number of employees with less experience in the initial events/projects.  Additionally, if our plan called for the use of outside consultants, we may need to lengthen our implementation timeline to allow internal champions and leaders be indentified and more extensively trained.  This approach would allow us to reduce our dependence on outside consultants and resulting pushback.

Alternately, if the assessment reveals a culture that thrives on highly energetic leadership, these same employees may be the wrong individuals to include in our initial events because they may be less likely to try new things. 

For another scenario, consider a cultural assessment that reveals a failed change within the past 5 years (such as a false start at a lean implementation).  Employees of this organization will likely have a difficult time accepting that the proposed change will be reinforced by management (flavor of the month syndrome).  After all, if the last change was allowed to die, what reason do we have to believe that this effort will be any different?  In this case, the pre launch communication plan will need to address the history directly and honestly and small wins early on will be needed to gain employee support.  Significant effort should be devoted to sustaining early changes as well to prove commitment.  Advertising these small wins will also be helpful.

Whatever the history and cultural of an organization holds, the change agent must be careful to study it and develop a culture plan that helps employees understand and embrace the change. 





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