My last two blogs have been about culture change. And I’m continuing the theme today….

I believe there are a number of common stages any organisation must go through in order to change culture, at least if the change is going to be sustained. Here’s my view on the spiral, the process to follow to dramatically increase the probability of successful, lasting change, and a brief explanation of each stage?
Stage 1 – Create a compelling purpose
People who are going to be subject to any change need to understand what the changes will be and why they are necessary. And they need to feel that the reasons for change are valid, that they’re important and that after the change has occurred the outcome will be positive. So it’s critical to spend time at the outset establishing why the change is required and how to communicate it in a compelling way, so that it’s seen as important. It’s easier sometimes than others. I once worked for an organisation who explained the need for a change programme by clarifying that the business was at risk and that unless change occurred quickly everyone’s jobs were also at risk. Hearing a message like that tends to focus the mind! On the other hand, the business may not be at risk, if might be performing reasonably well, and culture change is more about improvement and becoming even better. The compelling purpose then is probably more about painting a vision of just how bright the future could be. Some people are drawn towards change whilst others move away from the present – if the risks of staying put are strong enough.   Cater for both scenarios are provide a message that people can hear, irrespective of what motivates them to change.
Stage 2 – Catalyse leadership
Leaders in any organisation play a key role in causing, supporting and accelerating change – or not. If they aren’t supportive of the proposed change the likelihood of it succeeding reduces considerably. It’s therefore very important to ensure that people in positions of power and influence in the organisations are on-board and support the change. You will want their support not just in terms of the words they use but also in their actions and behaviour. It’s worth taking a little longer at the outset to ensure their support.
Stage 3 – Understand personal impacts
It’s all very well asking leaders to support culture change, but how can they really do that if they don’t understand what the likely impacts are for them personally. The human brain is genetically programmed to seek clarity and certainty about the future. The likelihood of any individual supporting change tends to be in direct contrast to the degree of clarity they have about what the change will mean for them. If the change is likely to be positive then naturally, people will be more enthusiastic than if it is likely to be negative but it’s still better, always, to provide clarity on what’s known – even if the impact is likely to be negative. Usually, even negative changes can be reframed to find some positives.
This of course holds true for everyone in the organisation and not just leaders. The fuller the explanation of the proposed changes the greater the success of the change over the long term.
Stage 4 – Understand organisational constraints and enablers
In his groundbreaking book ‘The Unwritten Rules of the Game’, Dr. Peter Scott-Morgan explained how the unwritten rules impact the success or failure of any and all organisational change. He stressed that no matter how clear and detailed the policies and procedures of an organisation, the key conditions impacting it are the things that aren’t written down anywhere but nevertheless influence how people behave every day.
Consider your organisation. What is the honest advice you’d give a friend about how to get on in it? How would they need to behave and why? What are the most important things to say (or not say)? What are the most important things to do (and not do)? Who should they seek to get on well with and who should they avoid? Given all that, how should they be when they’re at work and overall, what should they do? The answers to these questions are likely to be the unwritten rules of your organisation, or at least of your department in the organisation. If you were to ask enough people to answer questions like these, you’d start to build a picture of the unwritten rules at play, and how they affect how it operates. 
And the key thing to remember is that they interfere with any organisational initiative that seeks to change the way people behave. It’s possible that they will support the desired culture change but if they don’t, left unchanged they will dramatically increase the likelihood of it failing. That’s why it doesn’t make much sense to seek to change culture without first having an understanding of the current culture, and why it’s how it is.
Stage 5 – Design the plan
So you understand what the desired change is, you understand how it’s going to impact people and the unwritten rules in the organisation that might enable or constrain it. The next stage is to decide what actions are needed to cause the change to actually happen, how best to sequence them, how they will fit with other things happening in the organisation, who will be responsible for implementing them – and so on. Actions properly planned and delivered are always more likely to succeed than those that aren’t.
Stage 6 – Take action
Once the groundwork has been done, it’s time to take action and implement the plan.
Stage 7 – Monitor and measure progress
As the plan is being implemented and actions taken, it’s makes sense to monitor the results and measure progress towards the desired change. However, be conscious that it might take a little time to see changes, so don’t change course too soon. If the previous stages have been undertaken well, the change will happen in time. Culture is difficult to change and it’s wise therefore to position any culture change activity as ongoing and not a short term programme.
Those organisations who approach changing  culture as a project which once down can be shut down and focus switched to something else don’t really understand the nature of cultivating something long term and are more than likely to fail….
For more information or help with the stages:
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