One of the most common questions I get asked is how to change organisational culture in the most effective way - so I have shared a step-by-step approach below. I hope it is useful!
1. Identify areas for change
It sounds simple, but at the start it is important to establish exactly what you want to change, and why. It’s not enough to have a general idea that safety or quality culture could be enhanced, but rather you need a specific set of goals and the reasons for their importance.
It goes without saying that changing culture isn’t a quick or easy fix, so it is also important to identify the main areas that need improvement. This might be because leaving them unchanged would create the biggest risk, or because improving them would create the greatest benefit. It’s important to know what to focus on in a change management plan, as you can’t change everything at once.
For members of the Culture Excellence Program, you have access to data that can guide and shape your decisions, and you can ask for feedback on your ideas at any time.
2. Create a case for change
When you are convinced by the changes required, you then need to convince everyone else involved. To do this, it is important to create a ‘case for change’, a justification that the change is necessary, and would bring sufficient benefit to make it worth the time and effort required.
Change management expert Dr. Kotter states that it is important to create a ‘sense of urgency’ before embarking on a journey of change. Without getting people to actually see and feel the need for the change, the whole process is doomed from the start.
From a psychological point of view, creating meaningful change is indeed incredibly difficult if people do not agree with its necessity. Change is hard, and involves time, effort, resources and – toughest of all – the requirement for people to unlearn old habits and learn new ones. The case for change therefore has to be strong, convincing, and effectively communicated. It’s crucial to get all key stakeholders bought into your case for change before you take the next steps.
For members of the Culture Excellence Program, you have access to solid data that can provide evidence for where change is needed most. This is an important mechanism for showing your ideas are evidence-based and representative.
3. Identify leaders and champions
If you work in an organisation with hundreds or thousands of employees, you need to identify your key culture leaders and champions who will be the drivers and supporters of change. According to Dr. Kotter: “Producing major change in an organization is not just about signing up one charismatic leader. You need a group – a team – to be able to drive the change. One person, even a terrific charismatic leader, is never strong enough to make all this happen”.
It could require members of HR, managers from various key positions and departments, along with representatives from the workforce – it all depends on your internal organisational structure and who the change initiative is targeting. Needless to say, the champions should be leaders in the organisation – not necessarily because of their seniority, but because other employees trust and look up to them.
Selected champions will need to fully understand and buy into the case for change, understand the details, have input in the decisions, and where necessary be given the resources required to support them in their role. The company should also communicate to the rest of the organisation who the champions are, what their role is going to be, and encourage other employees to come to them with suggestions or questions.
For members of Culture Excellence Program, champions should have access to all core data from the assessment, and be invited to join the webinars and community groups (e.g. our LinkedIn Members Group) for ongoing ideas and support. They should meet regularly and have open communication.
4. Develop an action plan
An action plan should detail all the steps that need to be taken to achieve meaningful and lasting change in the areas that have been identified. An effective action plan will take into account other company-wide initiatives, as well as company vision and strategy, and ensure these are integrated and complementary. It is important to set clear objectives – and concrete steps on how they should be achieved and measured. Objectives should indeed be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound). In many companies, these are established as KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).
Culture Excellence members have data in the form of 'Elements', which can be filtered for maximum specificity and relevance. Because the assessment breaks down the complexity of culture into these bite-sized, practical components, they are an excellent basis for the creation of SMART objectives.
5. Generate involvement
To develop the action plan, it is important to also involve the people the changes will affect, so you can gain feedback and ideas, and allow them to feel involved. As the renowned father of change theory Kurt Lewin has remarked: 'Learning is more effective when it is an active rather than a passive process'.
For this reason, any group that is affected by the change should have an opportunity to give feedback and share ideas, because they have first-hand knowledge of the impact it could have. Also, being part of the change initiative from the start will build their involvement and sense of ownership in the process, ultimately improving your organisation’s chances of success in achieving meaningful and lasting change.
6. Reduce barriers and risks
Managing change is difficult, and it is important to know where barriers and risks may lie. These could be practical (e.g. resources) but there are also often deeper psychological aspects that companies need to address. People can be resistant to change because of many different reasons (disagreement, feeling overworked, lack of confidence, etc.), and it is important to understand and mitigate these through active communication and analysis of available information.
For members of the Culture Excellence Program, look at the ‘barriers’ view to see some of the common issues that could affect your proposed change. Also, review the lower element scores, including those that relate to change in general. Don’t forget the supporting qualitative data to see if anything there highlights potential barriers and risks.
7. Implement revised plan
Once feedback has been gathered from key stakeholders, sufficient people have been involved, barriers and risks reduced, and the final revisions made, it is time for action!
8. Evaluate and reinforce plan
When the action plans are underway, it is important to evaluate how things are progressing at key points throughout the process, and to use positive data as a mechanism for reinforcement. Gathering feedback on how well something went allows you to promote short-term successes straight away, reward people involved, and motivate others. If there are areas that need refining further, it is vital to do this as soon as possible.
Metrics are important to consider here. If there has been a measurable impact on any key metrics these can be shared and celebrated. If there has been an insufficient impact, again this can give insight into where improvements might be required.
9. Keep momentum
Change needs ongoing attention and reinforcement to turn it from something temporary into something habitual, and this needs to be planned from the start and continuously evaluated.
As explained by Lewin: 'A change toward a higher level of group performance is frequently short lived: after a “shot in the arm”, group life soon returns to the previous level. This indicates that it does not suffice to define the objective of a planned change in group performance as the reaching of a different level. Permanency of the new level, or permanency for a desired period, should be included in the objective.'
It is also important not to take your eye off the ball. Make sure the key people stay interested, keep in touch with the main stakeholders, and remain consistent in your communication and reinforcement strategies.
10. Assess ongoing impact
Finally, once you feel the change has been embedded into routine practices, you need to track its ongoing impact over time. Simply expecting it to continue positively without ongoing evaluation and renewed efforts when necessary could lead to a drop in impact and even a reversal back to how things were.
For members of the Culture Excellence Program, taking the assessment each year will allow you to see how the strategies you have implemented pan out in terms of their impact on key cultural metrics (e.g. 'elements'). It will also allow you to investigate the next areas to target as well as any additional steps required to embed the change further and enhance its impact even more.
For more information on how cultural change can be achieved, get in touch or add your questions below. And for all of you embarking on a journey of change, good luck!
This article was written by Dr. Joanne Taylor , our resident expert on all things safety management and organisational culture. Dr. Joanne has more than 20 years in the field, a degree in Psychology and PhD in risk management. She is a leading voice in the industry when it comes to quality and safety culture.