Does Your Organizational Culture Support Your Transformation Ambition?

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A recent conversation with a business owner reiterates the importance of closing the culture gap that impedes progress on business transformation. The business owner set an ambitious agenda to implement more technologies to streamline operations. The transformation journey was met with hurdles. Two years later, new applications are in place but the business still struggles with full adoption.

This 50-year old business has many long-time employees. The cultures in different workgroups vary. As a result, their receptiveness and readiness to transform posed challenges. The owner shared a few learnings.

Underestimated culture gap

The transformation initiatives aimed to improve productivity and efficiency. The senior leadership team anticipated that employees would welcome the improvements.

As it turned out, team leaders with long tenure who are complacent with status quo debated the need for dramatic changes. Those who embrace consensus decision-making let their team’s preference determine their level of participation. Some even attempted to influence their peers on their support. A lot of time was spent to get buy-in throughout implementation.

When the organization’s culture doesn’t align with what’s needed to support transformation, the culture gap presents an immune system to change.

Overlooked need for coaching

The culture gap often implies capability gaps. When employees don’t buy in to an idea, there are causes for their position.

The causes could be insecurity about their jobs, fear of inability to adapt, or a lack of desire to learn. These causes are cues that the owner felt they should have paid more attention to. He was informed about pockets of resistance. However, he felt his regular communication about the importance of the transformation initiatives would have driven home the need to change.

In reflecting on the pushback, he believed coaching might have been an effective way to address causes and provide assistance to those who needed it.

Inadequate user engagement for input

The transformation initiatives were managed by the Technology team. Business users were engaged to gather requirements for the applications at the beginning.

During the solution design phase, only a couple of workshops were held to showcase the general layout of key screens. The premise was that the various vendors have worked with businesses in the same industry, so they have a good understanding of what works best.

Users weren’t thrilled when they saw the application during training. When their managers got the feedback, it didn’t land well. Since the business has been promoting a collaborative culture to ameliorate the effects of work silos, this was a major setback.

When stakeholders are lukewarm about pending changes, it is important to engage them as much as possible along the transformation journey. Their involvement helps to build trust and ownership of the pending changes.

Overly optimistic expectations

One of the transformation objectives for the business was to introduce a more structured approach to performance measurement. The business had focused primarily on financial results in the past. The new applications would provide the capabilities to monitor work activities more closely and hence, process performance.

Immediately after rollout, employees were inundated with operations dashboards and reporting requirements. They were expected to learn new processes, new tools, and new metrics. They became overwhelmed.

Many employees felt the new dashboards subject their work to scrutiny. It became a finger-pointing debate when results were not up to par.

With proper education about process performance and introduction of dashboards in a smaller scale, employees might have been more receptive. Depending on the culture of the organization, certain changes need to be incorporated into day-to-day operations through a more thoughtful transition.

An organization’s culture encompasses what people value. Their beliefs affect how they behave and work. It is crucial for business leaders to understand their existing culture and be prepared to devote energy to shift thinking so employees are ready and willing to take on transformational changes.

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