Working with large companies navigating culture change (and frankly, what modern organisation isn’t attempting to evolve their culture?), there are a few troubling trends that I see time and time again.
Here are three common culture change mistakes that every leader must avoid:
1. Over-investing in change planning and under-investing in execution.
When this happens, we take so long to diagnose the issues and develop the change plan that we run out of energy for practical, thorough execution. It’s like change implementation is almost an afterthought.
Here, we typically see HR and Organisational Development departments doing some ‘cutting edge’, detailed diagnostic work – think employee culture surveys, focus groups, literature reviews, workshops, study tours and think-tanks – to identify cultural issues which, by the way, are already intuitively known and understood by everyone in the organisation.
Unfortunately, this kind of investigative work can frequently take 12-18 months or more – and by the time we pull together a strategic change plan and present it to the Executive and Board, we discover the people and organisational climate has moved on and our plan is now redundant. Throw in a CEO or key executive changeout and all that diagnostic and planning work can seem wasted. #doh
Meanwhile, we’re promising the frontline leaders that change and support is on its way, while their consistent experience is that they are getting zero support and training to influence change at the team level – and clearly, this is where the rubber hits the road.
This is where HR and OD credibility with internal customers slides and line managers begin to regard the people support functions as more of an overhead than a value-adding function.
2. Diligently engaging senior leaders but forgetting about energising our front-line managers.
When we’re changing organisational culture, in our efforts to get the new change initiative over the line with the Executive and Board we can almost forget where the rubber hits the road.
Cultural change happens at the front line, not in the boardroom.
While it’s true that change processes must be led from the top, it is actually implemented at the front line. Frequently, we see change programs being communicated to front line leaders in the shape of renewed expectations, refocussed KPIs, new procedures and systems of work. However, what we forget to do as leaders is to sit down with front line managers one-to-one, to see how they’re thinking about the opportunities and impacts of change, and how they’ll communicate it to their teams and deal with feedback or pushback.
Perhaps most importantly, we forget to ask line managers what they want to achieve with their teams in the process of change, and how we can support them to do it. All the gold in terms of energising change lies in these discussions with front line managers and their teams (the largest segment of the organisation, after all) if we’re taking the time to show up and ask the right questions.
This can happen effectively via front line leader coaching, team building, training and workshopping with teams on implementation impacts, where the goal is to create energy at the team level for implementing the change.
3. Spending all our consulting budget on the early phases of change planning and design, rather than the harder work of execution.
As a general rule, we engage external consulting support when we need help conceptualising issues and strategy to create executive team alignment and receptivity to the change, or when we need extra resourcing to drive quicker results.
This often means that we are happy to invest upfront in external consulting expertise to diagnose key issues and design the change process, but by the time the implementation phase arrives, we feel we’ve already spent too much, so the change now must be implemented ‘on the skinny’.
This approach communicates a wavering commitment to change implementation and a lack of investment in our frontline managers and their teams, which is where the real action and impact of change is experienced. It’s also the reason why we see some companies continually planning major change initiatives on a predictable 2-3 year cycle but never truly implementing with impact.
Let’s instead consider how we might rebalance the investment in external consulting support over the life of the change program, so we allocate proper investment to the implementation phase rather than running out of cash and commitment after the sexiness of the design phase. A great consultant will help you consider and plan the whole journey and will advise on where your consulting dollar is best spent for greatest impact.
If any of these common culture change mistakes are resonating with you, we’d love to hear about your experiences and learnings. How are you either seeing this play out in your organisation, and what are you doing to overcome these change leadership challenges?
Reach out for a chat – firstname.lastname@example.org