It is often said that a company is the sum total of its people and its culture. This is why it is impossible to separate the two without affecting both entities. Similarly, it is important to understand that this relationship (between people and culture) is the main reason why people so vigorously oppose changes to company culture.
However, changes in organizational culture are inevitable and essential for continued survival. No business could continue operating (in any industry) with outdated notions of company culture. Forcing employees and stakeholders to conform to such ideas generally results in an implosion.
On the other hand, however, introducing changes to a company’s organizational structure is equally difficult. Management usually gets away with minor changes, but efforts to modify any mainstays of culture is always met with resistance.
For instance, online retailer Zappos decided to make dramatic changes to its company hierarchy—in fact, it decided to get rid of it. As CNBC reported, “CEO Tony Hsieh explained to employees last month that the company was ditching job titles and management positions in favor of a system known as ‘Holacracy.’ The term, which comes from the Greek ‘holon,’ meaning a whole inside something bigger, is about ‘self-governing.’ It works by dividing the company into some 400 circles; inside a circle, a worker can have multiple jobs.”
The results of tremendous changes … are generally to be determined.
Gradual Ch-ch-Changes in Company Culture
Changing company culture is a mighty endeavor that presents a serious challenge. Perhaps this is because the culture of an organization is a representation of core values, goals, and aspirations of the people within the organization.
More often than not changes to organizational culture are misinterpreted as a top to bottom change that impacts the entire organization. While there are organizational changes that shake things from top to bottom, they are isolated occurrences. This misconception has become so entrenched in corporate psychology that people show extreme negative reactions when they hear the words “changes to organizational culture”.
In reality, the best changes to company culture come more as a novelty rather than a catastrophe. In other words, organizational change should be a series of gradual implementations rather than one single sweeping broad stroke. Gradual changes also have the benefit of hindsight.
When you complete a set of reforms in a single stroke, once the policy is out, reactions start to come in and you find yourself dealing with damage control (and soothing ruffled feathers). The situation leaves no room for adjustment to the post implementation impact of change. The result is usually a policy recall. This is a total loss in terms of trust, credibility, expertise, and strategic progress.
The best way to change company culture is to take it slow. After every successful step, sit back and review both the process and its impact (including resistance).
Resisting Change Can Be a Good Thing
The factor of resistance is important enough to be the focus of any review of the organizational change process. By properly gauging leadership and employee reactions, you can tweak the next stage of the process to head off further resistance. This advantage is the real reason to opt for a stage-by-stage implementation. The downside is that the plan might go under revision after every stage — costing time and money.
As a leader, it is essential to differentiate between the change agenda and the process used to accomplish it. The agenda is fixed and should not be changed under any circumstances. The implementation plan (to achieve the agenda), however, remains fluid. Otherwise, a rigid plan will only result in disaster; a complete failure.
Ultimately, resistance to change is considerably diminished when people see you (and key leaders they trust) supporting the change. Whether willingly or reluctantly, your people will help move the process forward.
Bringing about organizational change is not an easy task. However, with a stage-by-stage process, the hurdles can be minimized and true progress can be made.
This article has been edited and condensed.
David Jones is a web content writer and guest blogger who provides content writing services to online business owners. David is writing on behalf of LSA Global, a business consulting and training firm. He offers guest blog writing services on consultative selling training, change management training, customer service strategies, employee retention training, sales, sales presentation training and more.