The Role of Education in Making an Organizational Culture Change

Posted by Eric Sokolowski  /  April 21, 2015  /  Human Resources Management, Workplace Culture   —   No Comments ↓

organizational-culture-changeInitiating an organizational culture change within a business is no easy task. And the larger your organization is, the harder change will likely be. This is due to what Boundless calls "cultural inertia." It continues: "Big and strong organizational cultures will have a powerful tendency to continue moving in the direction they are already moving (momentum)." An organizational culture change successfully alters the speed or direction of that movement.

Too often, those who want to make change ignore some of the steps required to do so and find themselves having to give up before any real development has occurred. To solve this, organizational change requires significant planning. As described in Forbes, "Changing a culture is a large-scale undertaking, and eventually all of the organizational tools for changing minds will need to be put in play. However the order in which they deployed has a critical impact on the likelihood of success." Since culture is an "interlocking set of goals, roles, processes, values, communications practices, attitudes and assumptions," you can't just insert a superficial change and expect it to take root. This is where education comes into play.

With learning initiatives geared toward the right goals, you can significantly raise your organizational culture change's likelihood to succeed.

Engage with your colleagues to discuss your strategic vision

Put simply, if you want people to accept a change, they have to understand the reason for it. Within the workplace, people tend to stick to what they know in order to get the job done. Implementing change takes time and focus away from these immediate goals. In an excerpt from their book adapted on FreshMIX, McKinsey & Company's Scott Keller and Colin Price say the first step involves the fact that "people need to understand what you want them to do differently...It's not just sending out a memo and assuming it's done. It's a process of deeply engaging with people, talking with them, listening to them, framing the changes in a context that's meaningful to them."

Instead of relying on your colleagues to understand what you want them to change, use learning initiatives to share why you feel that way. A webinar would serve you well because of its twofold structure. First, you can share your strategic vision and put your desired outcomes into context. And then you can allow your colleagues to ask questions and engage in the way that Keller and Price described. Further, you can save the initial webinar so your fellow employees can review which questions have been asked and answered before you conduct follow-up sessions—which we will expand on later in the post.

Make sure the higher-ups have bought in

There are two huge reasons that you absolutely need the positions of power within your organization to not only approve of the change you seek to make, but also join in the effort. First, it gives you a sense of authority. There will always be those people who keep to the status quo unless they are specifically ordered to do something differently by someone in a position of leadership. Second, you need your higher-ups to lead by example. Per Boundless, "Top management needs to exhibit the kinds of values and behaviors that they want to see in the rest of the company." 

So as you educate your colleagues, make sure that they see leadership backing up the cause. Include learning opportunities for higher-ups, ensuring that they understand the importance of role-modeling in cultural change. Have an explicit discussion with them in which you lay out your compelling rationale, your strategy for systems changes, your desire to include key learning initiatives and your plans for measurement and follow up.

Let's say your initiative is to encourage innovation among all levels of employees. The process of using innovative methods that allow your company to work more efficiently requires a significant amount of time for research. Convince those in charge to designate a certain number of hours per month where employees could dedicate time to test their ideas and create a convincing argument as to why your organization should adopt them. Since the employees now have the time required to accomplish this task, they'll be much more likely to follow through. In the end, they may find ways to help your business save money or be more productive.

Help your colleagues develop the skills required

Now that your fellow employees are on board and understand why a change must be made, they need to know how to do so. As Keller and Price describe it: "People may want to change, and see processes changing around them, but they personally also have to have the skills to behave differently. Maybe that's different technical skills, maybe it's different leadership skills." Either way, you should create learning tools that demonstrate both the skills required and how each specific skill fits into the context of the bigger picture. 

Since the initial discussions and engagement already took place, use videos to your advantage at this stage. Take our innovation example. With a series of videos available in an organized dashboard, your colleagues can easily incorporate learning into the time already set aside for their research in innovative technologies or methods for their roles within the organization. As they complete the initial training and put their newfound research skills to use, they may develop additional skills and even add their own additional videos to the dashboard.

Measure the results and follow up

Many find this stage to be the most difficult simply because there aren't many obvious or tangible ways to measure the success of a change campaign, especially because it may take up to a couple of years to really take hold. So to help your employees see the positive effects of their efforts, use training tracking analytics to your advantage. By demonstrating how many of them have engaged with the learning tools you and your higher-ups created, you're presenting a solid front. In our innovation example, create another video or webinar to show some examples of great ideas your fellow colleagues submitted within the first quarter or six months.

Topics: Human Resources Management, Workplace Culture