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Understanding Organisational Culture: a Key to Implementing Change

In the previous post in this series, we outlined some considerations when assessing whether an operating model is fit for purpose in the context of strategy execution. In this article we offer another key consideration; that of an organisation’s culture.

Understanding Organisational Culture

Organisational culture can be considered as a collection of priorities, habits, practices, beliefs, tensions, and moods that regulate and guide actions and decisions within an organisation. In any large, multi-skilled organisation, there are likely to be strong sub-cultures based on geographic sites or disciplines.

At the core for suppliers of Water services for example, is engineering expertise. Processes and procedures have been developed and refined over time by experts who care deeply about what they do and who they do it for.  Their main purpose and priority is to provide the safe and reliable management of water as a vital resource to its customers.

It is our experience that over time organisations develop complex processes, built layer-upon-layer, to manage their service delivery obligations. The layers are built up through different change demands over time such as:

  • Increasing/decreasing numbers of customers,
  • changing demands of customers, for example, a move to being digitally-enabled
  • regulatory bodies and other stakeholders, and
  • in response to encountered or recurring issues. 

People within organisations often become so accustomed to doing and responding to things in a certain way that they lose sight of why they are doing it.

We work with organisations to strip back the layers of complexity to reveal the culture at its core.  When people can see what they are prioritising, the recurrent practices they have designed and the habits they have formed, the culture becomes tangible. This first step in self-awareness leads to possibilities to change priorities, redesign practices, or change beliefs about what is important to achieve in the business.

The priorities an organisation sets determines the practices people design and the habits they form

When we work with clients, we want to quickly understand what the priorities are and whether management layers, departments or business units are aligned.  

We recognise that the industry experts are the people doing what they do every day. We try to understand what people are doing and how well they are doing it from the perspective of those they are doing it for. We use the lenses of Lean Management (waste) and Promise-based – the network of commitments or promises made between people to satisfy concerns of stakeholders within and outside an organisation - to make and present our assessments of breakdowns and potential areas of opportunity.

Our approach to understanding the culture, identifying potential areas of waste and opportunity, prioritising, designing, and then supporting the implementation of change, has broadly 2 stages.

Stage 1: Listen, Diagnose, Design and Plan. This time is crucial to helping us understand the priorities, habits and practices within the organisation that then give rise to the beliefs, arguments, tensions and moods that define the prevailing culture. We review all relevant processes and practices objectively and build a picture of where the opportunities and breakdowns lie.

Stage 2: Implementing change by embedding new processes, practices, and behaviours at all levels.  This largely equates to supporting our clients to establish a different perspective and learning to act differently.

Effective and lasting change only happens when people within the organisation are committed to and drive the action within a programme of work. From the very start of a change programme we work closely with people, developing regular practices and communication to make sure we are all aligned with the desired state. 

Implementing and delivering the change, regardless of the nature of the industry or the organisation, always has inherent challenges. The level of complexity of managing change is dependent on a number of factors which need to be fully understood and managed, among them:

  • The mood and the attitude of the team that is undergoing a change
  • The business drivers governing the initiative
  • The political environment and the dominant culture within the organisation
  • The level of attachment to preconceived ideas regarding the cause of the issues
  • The nature of the challenges or specific solutions.

Read the other articles in this series here and here

How we can help

At Sia Partners we have a team of experienced individuals working across industries supporting organisations through transformative pieces of work. We understand the importance of choosing the right partner to work with; making sure that they are the right fit for your organisation, that they will challenge but they can ultimately work with and support your people. Get in touch to find out more about how we can help.