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Corporate Culture: A Critical Element in Change Management

Posted By Holly Lyke Ho Gland, November 25, 2012 at 12:00 PM, in Category:

Maintaining steady growth and staying ahead of the competition is a constant concern for all businesses. Shifts in technology, product commercialization, and customer preferences sometimes require companies to pull back and reassess their competitive strengths and business models. However, that is easier said than done. How do you determine there a need for change in the first place? What capabilities will lead you to your goals? How can you get company-wide buy-in? And finally what roles do communication strategies and corporate culture play in this type of endeavor? I will address the first three questions in future blogs, today I’d like to tackle some of the concepts around the role of culture in change.

Culture is a nebulous term; in many cases it’s easier to identify what doesn’t fall under the umbrella of corporate culture than what does. However, culture can loosely be defined as the particular behaviors, beliefs, and norms of a specific group.

So why is this important for change?

Culture influences how people respond to change. One of the principals of change management is understanding how people respond to change and integrating those responses into your plan. In almost every organization, you can identify three change archetypes:

1. Champions—individuals that support change but feel frustrated with their inability to create change on their own. Due to their enthusiasm, champions are the perfect employees to get onboard early, assign activities within the transformation plan, and use their success stories to motivate others.

2. Fence sitters—individuals that tend to take a “wait and see” stance; they rarely speak up but observe the conversations between champions and naysayers. Fence sitters tend to make up the bulk of employees and are the target audience for most communication strategies and change management tactics. The key is to build up momentum through communications and success stories, converting fence sitters to secure change.

3. Naysayers—individuals who tend to see no solution and often react vocally and negatively. Naysayers see themselves, however, as realists and have their own role in change. They help balance the abundant enthusiasm of the champions, and many of the objections they bring up are valid and should be addressed. Management can use the conversations created by addressing naysayers’ objections to convert fence sitters.

Your corporate culture tends to determine whom you hire—ultimately determining the ratio of each of these archetypes within your organization and consequently the amount of planning that needs to go into converting fence sitters and naysayers.  If your culture emphasizes flexibility, innovation, and collaboration, it’s likely you will have more champions than naysayers.

Communication styles are embedded in corporate culture. A second principal of change management is the use of communications to engage employees and earn their trust, so they understand and embrace change. Communications are how companies establish acceptable norms and behaviors within the organization. Furthermore, how communications are conducted reflects the values of the organization. As I mentioned in a previous blog on communications, one of the chief culprits behind most business challenges, including business strategy adoption, is inadequate communications.  So what does this mean? That communications are a critical component of your corporate culture and will determine the success of your endeavors. Companies whose culture stresses transparency, cross-functional communications, and employee engagement are one step ahead when it comes to change management. These companies already have established the trust and two-way communications needed to create buy-in, establish expectations, and continue the momentum for change.

These two components are by no means the only ways corporate culture and change management intersect. For further information on how culture and change management can be harnessed for effective business transformations, stay tuned for future blogs and an upcoming guidebook on how HCL technologies was able to implement a major business transformation during the economic recession and re-establish its competitive standing in the market.

Holly is the Research Lead for the Growth Team Membership, a best practices research group within Frost & Sullivan. Follow her on twitter at @hlykehogland.


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Written by Holly Lyke Ho Gland

Holly is the research lead for the Growth Team Membership™ (GTM) program. Holly identifies and profiles best practices that address the main challenges faced by the leadership in key functions that support the CEO in driving growth strategies. Since joining Frost & Sullivan in 2008, Holly has developed Best Practice Guidebooks for executives in Corporate Strategy, Corporate Development, R&D, Market Research and Competitive Intelligence. In addition to her best practices work, Holly manages GTM’s annual priorities surveys of senior executives within Marketing, Corporate Strategy, Sales Leadership, Corporate Development, and Innovation/R&D. Prior to joining Frost & Sullivan, Holly worked for three years at Sam Houston State University. There she was an instructor and a research assistant on research projects analyzing public perceptions of natural resource management in natural gas, power and water.



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