Change: Culture vs. Strategy

I heard recently the term culture trumps strategy every time and you know what, they're right! Change management courses often speak of the point at which companies fail to remain competitive often due to its inability to transition from a management problem solving process to a leadership focus. This focus on management creates excess bureaucracy causing a loss in efficiency, a lack of urgency, and a damaged culture.

The best strategy in the world will never overcome deep seated, long ingrained, culture. You know, the kind of culture that has a vested interest in keeping the status quo and will do anything to protect the current state of an organization. Well I have news for them; Change is Inevitable!

That said, keep in mind the effect of change on those that are absorbing or fighting the inevitable. Anxiety, happiness, fear, threat, depression, disillusionment, guilt, denial, and hostility are among the emotions that many feel when confronted with change and must be understood and accepted as part of the challenge that comes with organizational change. Many people feel one or more of these emotions as they don't understand why the change or the personal impact it may have on them. Fear in and of itself can be paralyzing for many and can cause its own kind of resistance that can stop change strategies in its tracks. It is the leader's job to recognize this, communicate appropriate/relevant information, and provide support along the path to accomplishing change. It is also important to understand that people will transition through their emotions at differing speeds.

The Solution

The solution is to initiate change early and create a culture of leadership. This doesn't mean that one person can go around and champion great changes while convincing everyone of a new vision or direction. If you have ever worked for a large organization, this approach is guaranteed to fail. Rather change strategies should take into consideration the organizations culture (among other considerations). There are 8 stages in creating major change according to John Kotter:

  • Stage 1: Establish a Sense of Urgency
  • Stage 2: Create a Guiding Team
  • Stage 3: Develop and Share a Vision
  • Stage 4: Communicate the Vision and Strategy
  • Stage 5: Encourage Action
  • Stage 6: Produce Short-Term Wins
  • Stage 7: Be Persistent and Encourage More Change
  • Stage 8: Make Change Last

The strategy for change should emphasize the urgency or need for change, a vision, and action items. Implementation should be in small incremental steps to produce short-term wins and should include involving many people to help champion and lead the change. These champions are your innovators who can encourage others to engage in the change process. Innovators are those small percentages of people that are willing to take risks, crave innovation, and cope well with uncertainty. These are the ones that have a social network which is useful in communicating over time and will effectively engage the early adopters and early majority. This is how ideas spread!

Managing the Change

To manage the change you must show a distinctive behavior that energizes and enables change to occur, provides consistency, and communicate a sense of urgency for the change. You must also manage resistance. No matter how enthusiastic you are, there are those that will go to great lengths to undermine your efforts. Hence, handling these resistors to change is a critical part of change management. Kotter and Schlesinger (1979), have developed strategies for dealing with resistance and include: education and communication, participation and involvement, facilitation and support, negotiation and agreement, manipulation and co-optation, and finally explicit and implicit coercion.

Bottom Line

Remember that transforming an organizations culture takes time, as much as 3 to 5 years, and carrying out a strategy for change depends more on creative leadership than on process management. Developing a culture that engages in change can be accomplished through organizational training and learning. Lastly, the gradual development of a new organizational culture with new ways of working will result in long-term persistent gains in achieving the organizational strategy

And above all else, Be Patient and don't lose sight of your goals or your enthusiasm for what you are trying to accomplish.

©  Darrielle Ehrheart | September 12, 2014

Back to Home >>