In my first post on this topic I suggested that:
- Even where a smart business has aligned the project with a sensible/necessary strategic intent, and then properly leads and resources the effort, failure is still likely if the power of culture is ignored.
- And culture can be loosely defined as ‘the way we do business here’ and incorporates attitudes, expectations and the way both internal and external relationships work. The people in the organisation are there because they can operate in the culture as it currently is and embody the culture; they are predisposed to resist change.
This post looks at the entrenched nature of culture and its affect on change.
Surveys by the Australian Institute of Management and others consistently show that around 30% of people in an organisation are looking to leave; which means 70% are content. This majority are comfortable within the current status quo and know how to ‘work the system’ to their advantage. The 30% who aren’t happy may be open to change but are also already disaffected and therefore probably disinterested.
Introducing a new ‘best practice’ will inevitably change the status quo and change the relative power balances within the organisation. A couple of examples:
- The organisation decides to introduce an effective scheduling system (possibly supported through a PMO). The people involved in doing the schedule gain ‘power’ they develop the schedule and report progress against the plan. The project teams lose power, they need to conform to the plan (losing the flexibility to do what they feel like on a day-to-day basis) and failures to achieve the schedule are highlighted to management much sooner than if the schedule was not being used. We can prove having an effective schedule improves the probability of project success (see: Proof of the blindingly obvious), but what’s good for the organisation as a whole is not necessarily going to be seen as good by the individuals affected by the ‘improvement’.
- The organisation decides to introduce a Portfolio Management process to select the best projects to undertake to achieve its strategy, within its capacity to properly support the work. This is a great strategic initiative that maximises the value to the organisation but will mean rejecting more the 60% of the potential projects it could do if it had unlimited resources. This means 60% of the pet projects supported by various members of the executive will be canned! Which means these people will lose power and status firstly to the team making the portfolio decisions and secondly to the executives whose projects were selected. Another group disadvantaged by the selection process (or more accurately the rejections) are the teams who develop the idea and build the business case for the non-selected projects.
In both cases what’s good for the organisation is potentially bad for a large group of individuals who are currently happy and effective working within the current culture and structures of the business – if they weren’t happy they would not be there!
In Culture eats strategy for breakfast! #1, I raised the concept of creating ‘space’ in the existing culture for the change initiative to move into and fill. This ‘space’ is created by crafting a general acceptance within the culture that the current status quo is not working well for the majority and some sacrifice of existing power and ‘comfort’ is generally warranted for the good of each individual as well as the organisation. This objective can be achieved in a number of ways:
- by identifying a ‘clear and present danger’ that is threatening the group and the organisation as a whole – the need to change to survive;
- alternatively a competitive challenge to beat an opposing organisation may work or;
- best but most difficult to achieve a engendering general striving for excellence simply to be part of something great.
Engendering the move towards accepting or desiring the change requires powerful leadership embodying credibility and a clear message that identifies the reason for the change and generates buy-in to the concept of changing and improving before the specifics are even discussed. This leadership has to come from the top! (see more on leadership)
The more established the ‘culture’ is the harder creating the desire for change becomes. Small and medium sized businesses can link the well being of the business to the benefits of the individuals far easier than large businesses. Commercial organisations can link their success to the well being of individuals far easier than stable government organisations with permanent employment as part of the public servant’s culture. The more resistant the culture, the more important effective leadership linked to powerful communication becomes in creating the space for change.
Once the ‘space’ has been created and the desire to improve is generally present, a careful two-way dialogue is needed to define the best options for change and build engagement, to recognise those who will inevitably lose power or be inconvenienced by the change and to help these ‘losers’ re-gain their losses (or perceive a better future despite the losses). Altruism is wonderful but it is unwise to rely on it as the primary mechanism for change.
There will always be resisters to change, the challenge is to shift the majority to a point where they want the improvements (or at least recognise the changes are essential). In addition to leadership, this also requires effective stakeholder management (see more on stakeholder management ). Once this shift is achieved, traditional change management processes cut in to deal with the implementation of the change, supported by project management processes to create the necessary deliverables to implement the change.
However, if the organisation fails to create the ‘space’ in its existing culture for the new processes to work within, the existing culture will definitely eat the intended strategy for breakfast!