8. Address culture explicitly. Once the culture is understood, it should be addressed as thoroughly as any other area in a change program. Leaders should be explicit about the culture and underlying behaviors that will best support the new way of doing business, and find opportunities to model and reward those behaviors. This requires developing a baseline, defining an explicit end-state or desired culture, and devising detailed plans to make the transition.
Company culture is an amalgam of shared history, explicit values and beliefs, and common attitudes and behaviors. Change programs can involve creating a culture (in new companies or those built through multiple acquisitions), combining cultures (in mergers or acquisitions of large companies), or reinforcing cultures (in, say, long-established consumer goods or manufacturing companies). Understanding that all companies have a cultural center — the locus of thought, activity, influence, or personal identification — is often an effective way to jump-start culture change.
A consumer goods company with a suite of premium brands determined that business realities demanded a greater focus on profitability and bottom-line accountability. In addition to redesigning metrics and incentives, it developed a plan to systematically change the company’s culture, beginning with marketing, the company’s historical center. It brought the marketing staff into the process early to create enthusiasts for the new philosophy who adapted marketing campaigns, spending plans, and incentive programs to be more accountable. Seeing these culture leaders grab onto the new program, the rest of the company quickly fell in line.
9. Prepare for the unexpected. No change program goes completely according to plan. People react in unexpected ways; areas of anticipated resistance fall away; and the external environment shifts. Effectively managing change requires continual reassessment of its impact and the organization’s willingness and ability to adopt the next wave of transformation. Fed by real data from the field and supported by information and solid decision-making processes, change leaders can then make the adjustments necessary to maintain momentum and drive results.
A leading U.S. health-care company was facing competitive and financial pressures from its inability to react to changes in the marketplace. A diagnosis revealed shortcomings in its organizational structure and governance, and the company decided to implement a new operating model. In the midst of detailed design, a new CEO and leadership team took over. The new team was initially skeptical, but was ultimately convinced that a solid case for change, grounded in facts and supported by the organization at large, existed. Some adjustments were made to the speed and sequence of implementation, but the fundamentals of the new operating model remained unchanged.
10. Speak to the individual. Change is both an institutional journey and a very personal one. People spend many hours each week at work; many think of their colleagues as a second family. Individuals (or teams of individuals) need to know how their work will change, what is expected of them during and after the change program, how they will be measured, and what success or failure will mean for them and those around them. Team leaders should be as honest and explicit as possible. People will react to what they see and hear around them, and need to be involved in the change process. Highly visible rewards, such as promotion, recognition, and bonuses, should be provided as dramatic reinforcement for embracing change. Sanction or removal of people standing in the way of change will reinforce the institution’s commitment.
Most leaders contemplating change know that people matter. It is all too tempting, however, to dwell on the plans and processes, which don’t talk back and don’t respond emotionally, rather than face up to the more difficult and more critical human issues. But mastering the “soft” side of change management needn’t be a mystery.