Is culture change a busted flush?

By Stephen Jolly, Managing Director of M&C Saatchi Transform, and Calvert Markham, Director of the Centre for Management Consulting Excellence.

On Tuesday 2nd July, M&C Saatchi Transform will host a panel in partnership with the Centre for Management Consulting Excellence.

Our four panellists, Mark Babington, Financial Reporting Council; Megan de Klerk, Pennon Group; Christian van Stolk, RAND Europe; and Baroness Thornton, former CEO of The Young Foundation, will share stories, practical advice and discuss organisational culture transformation – an issue high on the agenda for any company which recognises the urgent need to continually adapt to the rapid rate of business, environmental and political change.

It is clear that traditional approaches to culture change need re-thinking. 81% of change and transformation programmes fail (Smith, 2002). In many organisations, change is seen as something that is done to people, rather than driven by people.

All of us now conduct business in a highly competitive environment fuelled by fast-changing technology (AI and blockchain are just the tip of the iceberg); economic and political disruption; increasingly complex legislation and regulation; new challengers and disruptive business models; and changing societal expectations. In response, organisations across the public, private and third sector need to boost workforce agility, resilience, innovation, wellbeing and engagement. Those who fail to do so will simply be left behind.

For too many years, we have taken the same approach to change, but expected different and successful outcomes. A focus on the ‘hard wiring’ of the organisation without a clear understanding of the drivers of human behaviour, has meant impactful and profitable change is unlikely to be achieved.

Time and time again, we prioritise process over employees’ behaviours, needs and motivations and fail to involve the very people most affected by the change. Lack of employee insight and leadership support are two of the biggest offenders and are both well-researched kryptonite to change programme success.

Workforce insight

People act socially, not rationally. In our heart of hearts, it’s something we’ve always known but the advent of behavioural economics, neuroscience and behaviour change as an industry has repeatedly demonstrated that we are social animals, acutely aware of group dynamics, peer group influence and, in this case, organisational norms.

Organisations must gather data to get under the skin of their workforce and understand the behaviours and motivations of the people who will feel and deliver change. Organisations should then use this insight to identify critical behaviours to be encouraged or deterred in line with your objectives. Then, they must constantly measure as the organisation goes through its cultural evolution to prevent the change programme from slipping off course and to demonstrate meaningful evidence of improvement.

Lack of leadership and management support

The role of the sponsor in modelling and positioning culture change as vital to business strategy cannot be underestimated. Without active recognition from leadership, the rest of the workforce is unlikely to take notice. Change practitioners must also remain keenly aware of middle ranking leaders, who can often be a bigger threat to change than the C-suite. Alvesson (2002) highlighted the majority of managers do not have a bird’s eye view of the entire organisational culture. Instead, they “manage within cultures and affect or negotiate the meanings and values of their subordinates, peers or immediate superiors”.

Guests and panellists joining the discussion on the 2nd July are coming together, because they want to see a better approach to change. They believe, and many have witnessed, how a people not process approach is proven to deliver behaviour change that is more likely to meet an organisation’s strategic objectives. Click here to find out more and register for the discussion.

M&C Saatchi Transform, combines rigorous research, a deep understanding of the social aspects of human behaviour and legendary creativity to help ambitious leaders identify and drive the behaviours they need to deliver change and enhance performance within their organisations.

The Centre for Management Consulting Excellence, promotes leading edge thinking in management consultancy by linking academic research and practitioner experience, and is our partner for this discussion.

Alvesson, M. (2002) Understanding Organizational Culture, Sage, London.

Smith, M. E. (2002) – Success rates for different types of organisational change. Performance improvement, 41 (1), 26.