Change Managers can't change organisational culture...or can they?


e things you can put in your change planning tomorrow that will support cultural shifts.

I recently read quote saying

Culture is changed one conversation at a time

Nope! Great conversations with nurturing leaders and inspirational peers will serve to help individuals grow and become motivated, but individuals don’t change cultures, tribes change cultures.

Tribes change cultures

The person instigating negative corridor conversations about your change delivery is ineffectual if they're talking to themselves. They only gain power when they have followers.

To join the corporate culture conversation, you must first understand what is meant by culture. A quick Google search provides some excellent, succinct descriptions, for me it’s simply:

  • How we get stuff done around here

  • How our customers and employees feel about how we get stuff done around here

The culture of a company will grow organically, over many years. Changing that culture can also take many years. Replacing the people you don't want with people you do want is essential, but not quick and easy.

At re-invention stage organisations will come up with values and mission statement, often supported by a fancy graphic. They’ll laminate it and put in the meetings rooms. But how do you get everyone to really live these values in what they do every day. When employees embrace the culture and values o, it will flow into their lives outside of work. That’s when you’ve nailed it. Do you think a Google employee is only creative and motivated when at work?

Right now, at MLC were working to educate that Risk Management is everyone’s responsibility. When you’ve taught someone to act if they see something that could result in an accident, you’ll see them alert a stranger their shoelace is undone on their journey home. It’s behaviour like this that changes a person and ultimately changes the company culture.

At The Star we were all about going the extra mile and providing guests with “thrilling experiences” I’ll bet that resulted in some great kids birthday parties!

Planning and delivering organisational change is subject matter for many book chapters, in many books. However, let’s look at what you, and a single Change Manager, or Change Team CAN do to help start to grow culture within an organisation differently.

I recently read New Power by Jerry Heimans and Henry Timms. Although it’s not a book about Change Management, I found the case studies about global movements (#metoo, #blacklivesmatter) and companies that grew via viral marketing or crowdsourcing (UBER, AIRBNB), extremely relevant to best practices in Change Management.

Highly motivated, engaged participants working as part of a collaborative tribe towards a shared goal?

Isn’t that Change Management nirvana?

Reading the book, I thought about the transferrable learnings

Here are my five top tips.

1) Open up communication and collaboration channels

Use what you have. Yammer, Workplace, Teams, if nothing else, a whiteboard. Encourage open conversations about whatever you’re working on. Start by using these collaboration tools for general chatter. Set out your guidelines for acceptable behaviour upfront, then encourage chat. You want to see pics of Friday drinks, the failed cupcakes baking attempt, someone getting caught in the rain, a fun team event. Connect people, with people stuff.

When team members see a positive reason to open Yammer or Teams, they will then become comfortable using these channels to collaborate for work.

The ability to stay connected on smart devices allows people to collaborate on-the-go at-any-time. Not so they are at the beck and call of their office, but so they can more easily juggle work-life balance. You can now easily be on a hands-free team meeting while you’re driving to pick the kids up from school. Emails isolate us. Collaborative tools connect us, as people.

A recent Google study on culture cited that the most important factor for employees was that they felt psychologically safe at work. Promoting open conversation on internal social media platforms could help to foster and build that psychological safety zone.

2) Make comms about “user experiences.”

People like to read information about people. Particularly, people, they know. Describing how the Customer Service Team have reduced complaints and increased their NPS scores by using Twitter will get read more than a quick reference guide on corporate use of Social media.

3) Develop cross-functional chapters or centres of excellence

Encourage collaboration across skillsets. The Change Practice meeting. EA collaboration forum. Business Analyst network? As well as working on their projects, encourage collaboration and sharing in skills specific chapters. This is a common feature of Agile project deployment. If you’re not working in Agile or Continuous Delivery, you may not be aware of it. A sense of belonging in a peer group, where you can brainstorm and discuss challenges, and share wins is highly effective. Online collaborative tools keep the momentum going when teams are geographically scattered. I love this video from ING which explains Agile chapters.

4) Change Ambassadors/Change Champions/Superusers

Assemble your front line. I’ve used Change Champions in many projects. Change Champions help to roll out a specific initiative, but they have more value than a single roll-out.

At TAL, we ran a Change Champions education initative for dedicated change ambassadors. They were given basic training in functional change, e.g. ADKAR, and we helped them understand how to roll-our comms, deal with change resistance and drive adoption. They were our first line communicators for any business change and our eyes and ears on the ground. In this model, Change Champion activities must be measured and encouraged as part of their KPI’s. It won't work if they’re just enthusiastic volunteers.

Heimans and Timms in New Power gave me something else to think about with my Change Champions. Previously I’d always been very prescriptive about exactly how change champions should use delivery messaging. I’d prepare comms, training and be explicit on how I would like delivery to happen. New Power demonstrates that Change Advocates do a better job when they manage their chapters themselves. They know their immediate tribe better than you, so you should leave it up to them to decide the best delivery and communication methodology for that tribe…something for me to think about for future rollouts.

5) Develop a certification program

Think about an Office 365 roll-out. How many areas of new learning are there? Teams, SharePoint, OneDrive, Skype Meetings? At TAL, our claims system was complicated. We had over 120 quick reference guides for different areas of the system. When rolling out numerous changes over a long period, consider an accreditation program.

If you develop basic competency levels and accreditation for the different areas of Office 365, would staff feel more motivated to learn more about all areas?

Do you think EA’s might proudly display their accreditation certificates or trophies on their desks? You’d be confident of a level of ability, and there might be some healthy competition too. Add some of these achievement goals to KPI’s, to get more bang for your buck.

The accreditation may mean nothing outside your organisation, but it has meaning inside your tribe. The tribe that forms the culture.

I highly recommend encouraging learning outside of someone’s current job role too. Educate an administrator in Excel Analytics (Certificate 1, 2 & 3 😊 ), and they could work towards becoming a BA. Internally developing staff, mentoring and being mentored is hugely valuable in creating the right tribe mentality to drive the org change you desire.

There is so much more to say, discover and discuss on this subject, but for the time being, let me stop with these five taster ideas.

1) Open up communication and collaboration channels

2) Make comms about “user experiences.”