Organizational Culture Clears the Way for Successful Change

Crooked lines become straightDo opportunities exist to fortify culture when a big change occurs?

Change is happening across the Federal government at all levels. Individuals are adjusting their attention, teams are shifting their focus, and organizations are responding to new priorities. The speed with which organizations must respond to change while maintaining effective and productive momentum is increasing, and the potential consequences will have a greater impact on agencies and the public served.

Any change that is introduced to an organization has the potential to impact the existing culture. Change is happening, and a constructive workplace culture is needed for employees to meaningfully buy into the change effort. If people don’t buy in, then change becomes little more than a disruptive, disengaging force for everyone affected.

The question is: When change is introduced, what opportunities exist for leaders to calibrate and make the necessary adjustments to sustain or improve organizational culture?

As an organization embraces movement from the current to the new or desired state, there are four significant methods to create opportunities to improve or sustain organizational culture. These methods are used to ensure the best possible performance outcomes for the organization.

1. Assess the current state.

When change is introduced, organizations often move quickly to implementation. However, dutiful observation and listening will allow organizations to identify what is needed to enable a successful implementation of the change event. The goal is to obtain an understanding of the as-is state to enable leadership to make informed decisions about what is needed to reach the desired state successfully. The current state can be assessed by conducting interviews or focus groups with key individuals who will be impacted by the change event.

Questions to assess the current state:

  • What cultural attributes exists today that will enable successful implementation of the change event?
  • If the change is implemented today, what’s needed for it to be successful?
  • What are our leaders doing to support the change effort? What do they need to do?

2. Identify the risks and opportunities related to the change event.

Every organization faces challenges related to a change event. When change is introduced, initially organizations need to understand the impact(s) of the change event on the organization. For the change event to be successful, leaders must identify supporting systems, processes, and behaviors; as well as identify the inefficiencies the change event will address. Identifying the opportunities will allow an organization to preserve and reinforce the effective behaviors within the current state.

Questions to explore risk and opportunity:

  • How does this change impact or support your agency and operational division’s mission, vision, strategy?
  • What are we currently doing that will enable a swift adoption of the change event?
  • What are the best and worst potential outcomes of this change?
  • In what ways are we unprepared to successfully adapt or respond to the change event?

3. Mitigate ambiguity.

Change events are often followed by uncertainty by those directly and indirectly impacted. Leaders can mitigate the misunderstanding and concern by developing a clear and precise understanding of the road forward. Work to identify the message to communicate the who, what, when, and why story across the organization, specifically to the impacted individuals. When communicating information about the change event, an opportunity exists to reinforce elements of the existing culture that will remain in place and convey how the elements support the road forward.

A well-communicated, detailed vision will help people see the path to successful change. While all the bumps in the road might not be immediately apparent, a focus on people and process will help the organization keep the goal in sight.

Questions to ask to develop clarity around the change event:

  • What do the impacted individuals of the change need to know about the road forward?
  • How will this change impact elements of the existing culture? Which cultural elements will be reinforced to support the change?
  • What messages need to be communicated to manage perceptions, and when should they be shared?

4. Build capability.

Building capability is central to organizational performance. A change event may require individuals to learn a new process and requisite skills. Leaders will need to build the capability to lead and champion the change effort. For an organization to continue forward momentum, performance gaps will need to be identified and addressed. Organizations have an opportunity to assess skills and identify opportunities for targeted learning and development.

If a learning and development plan does not exist, the organization has an opportunity to implement a plan that focuses on the skills needed to execute the mission of the organization. A component of the communication to employees should include how the organization will provide support to learn new skills to maintain or increase organizational performance.

Questions to explore when building capability:

  • What new processes and skills will this change event require of the organization and individuals?
  • Does leadership have the requisite skills to execute the change event?
  • Are we able to build capability in-house or will we need to outsource to a provider?

Opportunities to align culture exist in the midst of a change event. Fortifying or reinforcing culture to meet a new operational imperative or business challenge becomes the driver behind the opportunities—check out our whitepaper on making change real by engaging in culture alignment.

Organizations that are successful at aligning culture with the vision, mission, and strategy are disciplined and deliberate with their approach. These organizations are aware that cultivating culture is not an event but a steady and intentional practice that takes effort from all members of the organization. A culture that is reinforced and is in service to the mission of the organization will yield the best possible performance outcomes for all people within the organization.

Written by:
Lahaja Furaha
Human Capital Advisory Services
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