Organisational culture plays a crucial role in implementing change. It’s not just about the technical or quantitative benefits that changes bring; it’s also about engaging and motivating people. Change can be uncomfortable, and people often prefer the familiar. Therefore, it is essential to present the future state in a way that resonates with everyone.

This blog post explores how to align change initiatives with organisational culture, emphasising the need to “sell” the future to gain employee buy-in. It highlights the importance of understanding an organisation’s unwritten rules and cultural dynamics and provides practical advice for managing change effectively. Organisations can achieve lasting and meaningful change by focusing on the culture and working with it rather than against it.

Change management focus

How can we get people on board with our change if they know nothing about it? By “selling” the future state to people, we are making them aware of what the future looks like and why the change is important.

Helping people embrace the future involves understanding what is meaningful to them and presenting it so they can relate to and understand how it affects them.

We know that change is uncomfortable and that human beings prefer the status quo, so focusing on the destination rather than the journey helps articulate the exciting future. Change in organisations is the same. So, let’s keep that in mind when we talk about organisational change.

When we plan a holiday, we look at the destination. Yes, the journey is a factor, but no one really wants to fly or sit in a car for hours on end. We get excited about the destination and the relaxation at the end.

Let’s focus not only on what will bring about benefits—the quantitative elements that probably make up our business case—but also on getting people excited about the new future.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.
Peter Drucker

It’s so true. We can have the best ideas in the world, but if the proposed changes don’t align with the corporate strategy, they won’t work. Or they might work for a short time and then see the people revert to “the way it’s always been done around here.”

Time and again, we’ve worked hard on a change only to have it fail at the end because it doesn’t fit in with the organisation’s unwritten rules.

The unwritten rules of organisational culture

Organisational culture remains largely undefined.

While there is universal agreement that (1) it exists and (2) it plays a crucial role in shaping behaviour in organisations, there is little consensus on what organisational culture is, never mind how it influences behaviour and whether it is something leaders can change.

Harvard Business Review

However, it can be described as the collection of beliefs, values, practices, and expectations that inform the actions of teams and individuals. In other words, how things get done can be broken down into some considerations detailed in the image below.

The unwritten rules of organisational culture

While Harvard Business Review provides thought-provoking input into the possibility of truly changing organisational culture, most leaders believe it can be changed. But it takes time, effort, heartache, and commitment.

Now, this may be the human condition of Optimism Bias, but if that is the case, and in fact, we can change the curriculum, but maybe not with this one specific change, then logically speaking, we have three options.

The three options

1) Change the change

Either the change itself or the way we are doing it

2) Change the culture

Which is a HUGE and complex undertaking

3) Work really hard and watch it fail

Which is completely demotivating for all involved

Understanding work culture

Understanding and working with the culture is critical, rather than against it. To do this and make your change work alongside the culture, you must:

Watch, listen, learn. Take the time to appreciate the past and present before defining your future state. The past, in particular, will inform your actions much more than the present, as individuals tend to be less affected by past changes that may have failed.

Remember your networks. Utilise your entire internal network, including those middle managers who often get forgotten about but know their people best. They can provide insightful and useful information that can help you avoid some resistance.

Acknowledge that change is a process, not a flick-of-the-switch situation. Not everyone will progress through a journey at the same pace. Put in the time and effort to ensure that people are ready for what is about to happen and understand its impact on them (even if you don’t agree with it).

Do not place your bias on the change. A very dangerous and often subconscious tactic that leaders use is to make the change independently without considering the culture. This attitude of “I alone can make change the way things are done” will likely provide a vehicle for more resistance and an impression of aggressive change management, which will slow the change down.

The PMO and organisational culture

PMO teams are often charged with driving a ‘culture of change’.

This is because PMOs are integrators; they bring knowledge, people, and frameworks together to deliver a project management practice that is fit for purpose. They also enable capability, which means they can help deliver a change in culture over time.

To do this, PMO teams must embrace the culture (in some cases more than any other individual) and ensure that the evolution of the project management discipline aligns with the culture to ensure successful improvements.

The video below discusses Ella’s Kitchen, an APM PMO of the Year Award winner. It provides a real example of a PMO that has embraced and supported the evolution of an organisation’s culture.

Ella’s Kitchen demonstrated to the judges how to embrace the culture to make change less scary and incidentally evolved it into a working, collaborative, and fun environment.

APM Accredited Change Management Practitioner Training Course

This two-day Change Management training course is for project, programme, and PMO practitioners alike, those keen to understand change management in the delivery context, and those delivering initiatives that impact people. It is the only APM-accredited change Management course worldwide and comprehensively investigates best practice change management.

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By: Hannah Francis

Hannah Francis
Categories: Consulting, Training

Published: 15 May 2024

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