Culture change programmes require attention to detail and an effective approach towards implementation. In order to effect lasting change sooner rather than later, some guiding principles can go a long way in pin pointing trusted avenues to support success. A multi-layered approach can spread responsibility, resources and multiply impact to achieve faster traction. Some main considerations include culture specific deliverables, acceleration and embedment of the culture change programme. Local teams collaborating towards the achievement of a shared goal will help to manage the complex task at hand and ensure valuable benefits for all involved.

I’ve written previously about the importance of agreeing implementation principles for any culture change programme so you have some guiding lights on how you should approach the change. But principles alone don’t solve the complexity of implementing culture change, just as giving responsibility to a culture project team to just ‘make it happen’ won’t work either.

So, how do you approach culture change in organisations and businesses that have many functions, geographies and a whole raft of other priority initiatives which need to be delivered at the same time?
It’s not simple and it requires a multi-layered approach in order to spread the responsibility as well as achieve the fastest traction possible. So what are the layers?

Culture Specific Deliverables

Well, inevitably there will be some ‘Culture project specific deliverables’ which do need to form the responsibility of a core project team. These are specific changes which need to be made across the organisation allowing leaders to embed the new culture into daily work practices. This will include development of a new Employee Value Proposition (EVP); updating recruitment, induction and onboarding; aligning performance management and development; changes to engagement and communication practices; as well as updates to policies, governance and core processes. You could see these as being all the obvious functional project deliverables from a culture project, but alone they will not deliver the change.

What are your Acceleration Opportunities?

The next layer, as the driving force of the change should be to seek out some ‘Acceleration opportunities’. Identify other priority strategic initiatives which you can integrate for example, a significant process re-engineering initiative, an IT transformational programme, a revamp of field sales training or a E2E review of supply chain management. Integrating with these other initiatives allows you to achieve the desired business outcomes from the initiatives AND the culture shift as combined outcome. Take the newly defined culture in to the teams that are delivering these initiatives and support them to apply the new Values into both how they approach the initiative (their methods) AND the actual deliverables (designs, solutions, implementation). By taking this approach you are sharing responsibility for achieving the culture change with a wider team, and with a greater level of senior sponsorship.

If we categorise both of the above levels as being ‘Driving forces of the Culture change’, we can then look to opportunities for ‘Incremental and evolutionary changes to culture’, these being small steps to making the change happen, but when multiplied will bring about the embedding of the new culture.

Embed in to other projects

Every business will have many other smaller projects or initiatives, perhaps that are being driven by local departments/functions. You want to embed culture change into these other projects by providing guidance to these existing/new projects on how to apply the new culture in their designs and implementation programmes- this could be as simple as a checklist of things to consider when delivering on a project. This approach recognises that any culture change project team cannot be actively engaged in helping all areas of the organisation at the same time, but that’s not a reason for any project to ignore the new culture. Providing guidance to these projects and giving them access to culture experts for ad hoc guidance will at least enable these projects to deliver some of the culture change, even though they may not achieve the full potential of the change.

Enabling your local teams

The final layer is enabling local teams to drive activities which will bring about the new culture. Provide practical guidance and activities (e.g. toolkit for use in team meetings) for teams to drive their own/local changes to work practices. This could be changing working arrangements with supporting teams, identifying how they impact on the customer and what they could do to improve or re-designing some of their own processes, and more.

Most culture change initiatives seek to drive the change through just two of the 4 layers – ‘Culture project specific deliverables’ and ‘Local team activities’ which is far simpler from a culture project perspective, but will naturally mean the change will be harder and take longer. Taking the 4 layered approach to driving the implementation of the new culture will allow you to gain fast momentum and share responsibility for making the change happen. However, all of this needs to be underpinned by two critical components:

  1. Engaging communications which support taking people on the journey. These communications need to be informative, engaging and immersive whilst also being two way, which is why I frame this as “Engage in Conversation”.
  2. Development and support for Leaders. Any culture change cannot be achieved without the leaders both role modelling the new culture and appropriately leading their teams through the change. But a big risk is assuming that leaders can just make it happen and that they have all the skills and capabilities they need to make it happen – often this is not actually the case, so ensuring a suitable leadership development and support programme is in place is critical.

Culture change is never simple, and adopting this multi-layered approach makes it more complex from a core culture project team perspective. But, embracing this approach will embed the new culture much faster which means everyone reaps the benefits of the new culture much sooner, whether that be your customers, your people, your suppliers, the community or your shareholders.