Culture and Change Management

Over the last year or so, I’ve had to confront organizational culture as the most significant obstacle to several change initiatives.  If you are reading this, then you’ve probably heard the words, “That’s the way we do things here,” or “That’s the way it’s always been.”  You know what I’m talking about.

Then last week I read an article in Business Week by Jonathan Alter (not someone I ordinarily regard as a “change guru”) that triggered a few thoughts.  Particularly this sentence:

“The stove-piping that hampers so many bureaucracies can’t be busted on paper, only in practice. Organization charts only matter in organizations that aren’t nimble and effective in the first place.”  Read the entire article here

In GE’s Change Acceleration Process (CAP) model, both Leadership and Organizational Systems & Structures are established and functioning on the first day of your project.  I’m now thinking that you need to consider that organizational culture is also established and functioning at project inception, and must be considered on day one, as is leadership and systems & structures.  See the graphic below.

Culture goes beyond leadership, and permeates all aspects of organizational behavior.   When you hear, “That’s the way we do things here,” that’s code for: Several levels of existing leadership have been developed and prospered under conditions like these:

• Lack of accountability, poor performance management
• Bureaucracy, decisions by committee, lack of empowerment, lack of urgency
• Lack of fiscal discipline
• Lax ethical or compliance mindset
A “change strategy” within the scope of your project is NOT going to undo the problems listed above.   Referring back to Jonathan Alter’s comment, I always consider organizational design/structure early in any change project.  It is essential to know what Systems & Structures obstacles you are up against as you get started so you can manage expectations effectively.  Traditionally, I’ve worried about culture later in the project, as behavioral changes required by the change initiative emerged, feeling that cultural obstacles could be overcome with an effective organizational change strategy, like typical technical and political obstacles.  After my experiences over the last year, I have a different persepective.   I am now taking a hard look at organizational culture early in a project, and when I see significant obstacles, I am managing expectations differently.

One response to “Culture and Change Management

  1. I agree… considering culture early in a project and throughout is vital.

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