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Are you ready for change?

Does your organisation have a change-ready culture?

How did formerly cutting-edge companies like Nokia and Kodak lose their way? Why do some businesses evolve, and yet others get left behind? What is the next Toys ‘R’ Us, or Blockbuster, or Blackberry, poised to go extinct through lack of innovation?

Continual change is a guarantee of successful business, not just in terms of the processes you use or the services or products you offer: the culture of a business needs to evolve as well. Nokia is a good example of how a corporate culture didn’t evolve, leaving the company struggling to reclaim a once buoyant market share.

Failing to appreciate the negative aspects of your culture — and everyone has some — can derail the most well-planned change management project. On the flipside, nurturing the positives helps the organisation embrace change.

So, if you’re looking at 2019 as a year in which your business will undergo considerable change, it’s time to ask whether culture will help or hinder the change management strategy?

Here are six questions to help your team decide if your culture is fit for change.


1. How well do you know your staff?

Knowing your staff, how they communicate and operate will make bringing about and communicating change that much easier. According to behavioural scientist and psychologist Daniel Goleman:

“… for employees, how a leader makes them feel plays a large role in their level of motivation, commitment, and even drives their brain in (or out of) the best zone for marshalling whatever cognitive abilities and skills they bring to the job.”

If you’re not building a healthy and positive relationship with your workforce they are less likely to be receptive to the change you’re aspiring to create. “Knowing” your staff doesn’t mean remembering their names, it’s about understanding their communication styles and adopting yours and empowering them to share their opinions with you.


2. Is the management team aligned on this issue?

It’s important the senior team presents a united front.

However, if there are individuals in management who are not on board with (or even aware of) news regarding change, you could have a sizeable issue on your hands. Teams look to their leaders for direction and support. If the leaders aren’t singing from the same hymn sheet, you open your change process to significant risks.

A study published in Harvard Business Review found that not only did most change management projects fail, but those that succeeded had in common the engagement of middle managers. That means engaging mid-level managers two or more levels below the CEO, who weren’t managing incremental change, “they were leading it by working levers of power — up, across and down in their organisations.”


3. Is your management ready to lead the way and stick with this change?

This is the other critical issue to iron out with your leadership before taking any next steps. Leaders need to drive the change process. If they’re not practising what they’re preaching or not following through on the commitments they’ve made, you can’t expect your staff to. Equally, if halfway through the change process their support begins to waiver, so will everyone else’s.

Dr John Kotter popularised an eight-step change management process which includes a step dedicated to ‘sustain acceleration’. He argues the implementation team must be committed to press harder after the first successes, and calls on teams to “be relentless with initiating change after change until the vision is a reality.” It might sound exhausting, but persistence and determination are vital components of successful change management.


4. Do your staff feel valued by the leadership team?

A happy workforce is a receptive workforce. Feeling undervalued means getting buy-in about change is an uphill battle. In the case of Nokia, the fall from holding nearly 40 per cent of the market share on the eve of the iPhone, to just a fraction of that, led to disinterested and disengaged frontline staff — which in turn had an impact on their planned change strategy.

If this is an issue for you, invest in making your team feel the warm and fuzzies before introducing the change. But make sure there’s substance behind that work. Empowerment will help the team feel privileged and valued, but that doesn’t mean asking their opinion on change if you’ve already made the decision. That’s a detrimental tactic and leaves everyone feeling less, not more, valued.


5. How transparent is your organisation when it comes to relaying policies, procedures and organisational developments to staff?

If the answer to this is not clear, you will need to be especially considerate with your communications. If staff are already suspicious, or uninformed, they will bring that scepticism into the change process, creating unique challenges. We work with a lot of organisations and find vastly different approaches to keeping staff in the loop. Some businesses are great at it. Others leave their team to be the very last people to discover what’s going on – after stakeholders, the media and sometimes even competitors have found out.

The best way forward from here is to make your communications about the change; Start with the what, the why and the how. There is no time like the present to create a culture of transparency.


6. Is the current status quo going to mean resistance to change?

This is a tricky one. Not so much because it’s a critical issue that could halt your project, but because it offers a litmus test for how easily your change process is going to go down with your staff. If things have been in a bubble of equilibrium for a while, your staff might struggle to see the need for change.

In the case of Nokia, a culture of stagnation and complacency became the norm. This was followed by the slow decline in sales and popularity which ultimately began to take a toll on staff morale. By the time upper management embraced the need to change their approach to mobile phone design and marketing, their employees were resistant. They felt alienated and were reluctant to take on the disruption to their routines and the added workload it would require.

Identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your organisational culture should be step one on your path to managing a successful change process. Underestimating the importance of employee buy-in and middle-management advocacy can be your undoing.

If nothing else is clear, cultivating a transparent workplace culture and taking the time to really get to know your staff are absolutely critical to ensuring your organisation is ready to embrace change. So now is your chance, are you ready for it?

Sarah-Jane Dabarera is the Account Services Co-Ordinator for Cannings Purple’s Design and Digital team and has communications experience in the legal, property and innovation and technology sectors. She is  IAP2-certified in community and stakeholder engagement. Contact Sarah-Jane.