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Adapt a Change Program to the Company's Culture

Edgar Schein's Culture Model:

The issue: Recently I was in a discussion about the challenge of organizational change, even where the need is intellectually, obviously valid. An executive related an example how, as a former Continuous Improvement Manager, he developed a straightforward initiative that ultimately generated significant improvement. The key to the improvement was bringing a very simple process in-house, something well within the organization’s capability. That initiative should have taken less than a year. It took five. That resistance to change had a high opportunity cost, with a price tag of six or more figures a year.

The executive’s Lesson Learned was, in his own words, the need to recognize the “direction of influence, motivation and dynamics and be adaptable enough to succeed whatever the circumstances”. He is spot on. And the source of that influence, motivation and dynamics is the company’s culture.

The tools: A company’s culture is the ubiquitous, mostly unapparent, context within which change occurs. Understanding it and adopting your approach to it is a critical success factor. Prosci provides the tools not only to map the culture but adapt projects to it.

Over the last 20 years Prosci annually surveys management professionals to update best practices. Identify what’s working and not working, now, in current environments. The survey gets input from over 1800 practitioners.

One output is The Holistic Approach to Change Management ‐ Insights and Innovations. This provides tools to map culture in six dimensions. Then for each dimension’s condition, provides what the surveyed population has found works for that situation.

I have used the tools with an existing client: mapped the culture on six dimensions and then developed the action plans. None of these dimensions should be considered good or bad. It is how people has learned to work with each other. This is affected by company history, geographic location, nature of the industry. The six dimensions are:

  • Assertiveness: people are able and expected to advocate his/her personal well-being and goals in their relationships with others.

  • Emotional Expressiveness: allowed, expected and encouraged to display emotions and emotional states to others.

  • Individualism/Collectivism: function more as individuals or a collective community.

  • Performance Orientation: rewarded for and expected to be innovative and the level of performance and continuous improvement expected from that individual. In low Performance Orientation, societal and family relationships are more important.

  • Power Distance: power is distributed (equally versus unequally) making it OK to “speak your mind”. Or is it command and control with people at the bottom accepting their position.

  • Uncertainty Avoidance: tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty.

The solution: Depending on an organization’s preferences, individual project initiatives are designed to address the rational, political, and emotional requirements. As an example, we worked with one company regarding Individualism/Collectivism. What we found was that employees chose to change with what their immediate coworkers were accepting. There was an avoidance to be viewed as a trailblazer. The organization was highly relationship based. This was characteristic of a city with centuries old neighborhoods, some people living in the same houses as their grandparents.

This told us that the conventional executive roll out would not work on its own. We had to go slower and get deeper in the organization. There had to be a lot of small work sessions with line employees talking about changes, past and future. We found out there had been many promises, previously made by continuous improvement, that had been celebrated but never fulfilled.

Conclusion: Findings in each of the other five dimensions also had a distinct effect on the project approach, directing communications and engagement. Culture, the determinant of “direction of influence, motivation and dynamics”, drives behaviors. If we can understand it, we can leverage it for successful change.


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