Seven tips for delivering cultural change in order for businesses to grow

A report out earlier this year from the global management consulting firm, the Hay Group shows that globally businesses are being stunted by ‘depressed’ employee engagement. The study shows that a third of employees report that they are unable to perform optimally, with an average of 33 per cent of workers claiming that barriers put in place by the organisation are preventing them from excelling at work.

This is not great news for businesses wishing to focus on growth now the economic outlook is looking brighter as such low levels of employee engagement are resulting in a lack of long-term commitment, with commitment levels falling to a five-year low. It is reported that more than two-fifths (44%) of the global workforce intend to leave their employers within five years, with more than one in five employees (21%) intending to leave in less than two years.

Whilst during the recession companies were concentrating just on survival now they must start turning their attention to employee engagement if they want to survive long term and start turning a profit again. For many this will mean a complete cultural change. Those that have neglected their employees in the past could now find this has led to a culture of malaise and dis-engagement, which is simply not conducive to economic growth.

Whilst business owners often understand this, dealing with it can seem like a mammoth task and many simply don’t know where to start. Leading cultural change and getting employees to engage with a new way of working is crucial to business growth but it’s perhaps one of the hardest things to implement, especially if employees cannot see the reasons behind it.

Businesses tend to adopt a change in culture as a result of new leadership or as in response to a ‘crisis’ such as financial problems or trends in the marketplace. With no apparent ‘crisis’ on the agenda, or certainly as far as the majority of employees are concerned, many people in the business won’t recognise the need for change. To implement change successfully, I believe there are seven important steps to follow:

Honestly communicate what happens if we don’t change
It is necessary to identify the dangers that the business is facing and create a ‘burning platform’ – honest and up front reasons why the business needs to change, such as for profit and growth – which needs to be communicated to everyone in the business. Business leaders often keep key information to themselves and then expend much energy forcing changes on unwilling followers. By realising that given the same knowledge and understanding of the all the facts the vast majority of managers and employees would reach exactly the same conclusions and would make precisely the same decisions about what is needed, business leaders have the foundations for cultural change.

Establish a credible model to follow

Leaders need to develop a logical and inspirational vision for the business and employees must be able to see the logic behind this. They must link the need for change and the common purpose in adversity. It is necessary to persuade employees that the company has no choice but to change and jobs are at risk if no action is taken.

By creating a credible model and a clear direction, this in turn gives new security to employees. If employees don’t understand or buy into the vision then the change management programme can fail at the first hurdle. The vision sets the ideal destination for the business and needs everyone on board to achieve success.

Be seen to act decisively

Leaders should lead by example and be seen to act decisively with urgent priorities. By auditing the key issues the business is currently facing and addressing these will create a sense of urgency and the message that they are serious about implementing change. This in itself can help create a tremendous energy and buzz within the organisation and the sense that everyone is pulling together, with a shared goal.

Make change tangible as well as a communicated idea

Re-structure the organisation where needed as a visible marker of change. Although re-structuring should NEVER mark the start of the change process without the ‘burning platform’ needed for change and the vision; once these elements are established then a re-structure may be needed. Changing the structure can give permission to new behaviours and ways of doing things. Different authority levels, changes in who makes the decisions and who holds the budgets can bring a new sense of empowerment to people.

Make change stick through wide participation

Coaching can underpin this new sense of empowerment and should be embedded in the organisation as the predominant leadership behavior going forward. This can help release people’s full potential, yet make them accountable for results and helps people towards a position of total clarity and maximum commitment for what they do.

Communicate everyone’s role

Identify strategies and objectives for all employees. Within in any organisation there will be different groups that will need to be handled in different ways. It may mean losing people as well as some people simply won’t fit into the new vision.

For instance the defenders of the status quo, whose leadership style is directing and already believe they do what is being proposed. These can be people who are incapable of change and therefore need to be removed or sidelined with dignity, so that the weaker people in the organisation don’t follow their view

The focus should be on promoting the rising stars or energetic long servers, often those that have enthusiasm over experience and may have been labeled in the past as troublemakers. Make the people that feel strongly about things the champions of change and the rest will hopefully follow.

Educate the whole organisation in the new business model

A common mistake businesses can make is focusing more on external communications than internal. Your business is your employees and therefore they should be seen as just as important as your customers. There needs to be regular and consistent on-message communication which needs significant time spent on face to face communication as well as other communication tools such as email, newsletters, intranet etc.

It is a case of tell your employees over and over again what you want them to know. In the absence of information many people will just make things up so don’t let this happen.

This last step is crucial as given the same information as leaders; most employees would come to the same conclusions. If employees completely buy into your vision for the future, then you are half way there, as a motivated workforce works harder and is much more productive.