Juli 22

The Still Waters of Culture Change

96% of senior executives think that some form of culture change is needed within their organisation and 51% believe that a major cultural overhaul is required. These are powerful statistics by any standards and it would not therefore be unrealistic to think that when a Booz & Company survey brought them to light in 2013, organisational leaders leapt into action.

Sadly, surveys and reports have revealed just how little has changed in the past two years. Witness the FRC which has made company culture and behaviour a priority for 2015. Or how about a July report looking forward to UK construction week in which architect George Clarke commented, “We need a cultural shift in how we deliver construction in the next five years.”

“We need a cultural shift in how we deliver construction in the next five years.”

And then there is the recent Boxwood survey into UK infrastructure organisations, which revealed “87% recognised the need to change the relationship with their customer, 78% recognised the need to change their culture and 71% recognised the need to change skills and capabilities.” The same pattern is reflected across the board. Wherever you look, from banks to supermarkets and from service organisations to solicitors the message is the same. People are recognising the need for change, there is lots of chatter going on about culture change, but the impetus just isn’t there.

So what’s going on? Why is it that when leaders recognise the need for culture change, when employees are looking for change, and when regulators, customers and others are all demanding change, why is change slow in coming? As with anything in business the reasons are many and varied but one of the key factors is that change means disruption and any kind of disruption is uncomfortable. Particularly so, when the sort of culture change which is facing many businesses is a complete cultural overhaul which moves them towards a more innovative model.

Disruptive innovation may well call for new strategies and values, new attitudes and behaviours and new processes and approaches. Leading such radical change requires the CEO and leadership team to move well out of their comfort zone, not something which many would confront with equanimity. This is perfectly illustrated by an SRA survey in July 2015, which commented that Solicitors are ‘ready to innovate but wary of change.’

“Solicitors are ready to innovate but wary of change.”

When we talk about change of any sort one of the keys to success is the need to anticipate and overcome barriers. When those barriers sit within the leadership team then the cold truth is that either change is not going to happen or is going to be so watered down that it renders it meaningless. So we have organisations which profess to be innovative but are merely tinkering on the edges of inventing or incremental innovation, we have organisations which profess to deliver outstanding customer service yet still target employees by number of calls made rather than satisfactory outcomes, and we have businesses which announce bold new initiatives which founder on the rocks of leadership inertia.

Two years ago 96% of people surveyed recognised the need for culture change within their organisation. In an increasingly global playing field the need for culture change has not gone away but instead has intensified. Leaders who may have thought they could dip their toes in the still waters of change as they gradually edged their organisations towards a new strategy are now finding that rather than a 10% increase, the change needs to be 10X. Real change, radical change is the only solution if organisations are to survive in a global marketplace in which increasingly disruptors can come from anywhere. It may not be comfortable; it may require resolve and an entirely new attitude and approach but then that’s what true leadership is all about, engaging hearts and minds and enabling people to deliver innovative solutions for the benefit of the organisation and of its customers.


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