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Holy Grails or Poison Chalices?

The first quarter of 2015 is over and I’ve not written many blogs. I’ve not been writing but I have been watching, reading and observing. With the proliferation of social media and online business tools you can easily spend days reading other people’s blogs, questions answered and opinions given. It’s amazing how many views there are about change and how to make it happen and I suppose that is a sign of how big an issue managing change is and how fraught it can be.

There are some perspectives that come up regularly and for anyone, like me, that has been involved in change for a long time, they seem to come in cycles. The packaging might be different, but the message is the same, like a 1960s advert for washing powder they pronounce that they are the solution to your change miseries.
Over the next three Blogs I want to talk about some current trends and why I think they may be an issue when it comes to driving your change.

Your Culture Needs to be..

Having a great Organisational Culture is an incredibly powerful to way to boost production, output, efficiency, sales or whatever it is you need to boost. Your culture is also becoming a key aspect of your employee value proposition in a world where smart young people want to chose where they work. So no wonder that ‘culture’ is high on many organisations agenda. And with it being so high, then it’s no wonder that Engagement Surveys and Culture Surveys abound. Some of my clients get these confused and I’m not surprised. Is an Culture survey more important than an engagement survey? Is Engagement part of Culture? Is Engagement just an enabler of Culture or is it the other way round? And like a snake eating its own tail the two chase each other to the point that some organisations do both just in case.

But does it really matter which type you run? I’m not sure it is, despite what the surveyors will tell you. Isn’t what matters whether it asks the questions that you need the answers to? The answers that help you get the culture that you want?

But ‘you are missing the benchmarking against other organisations’ I hear people cry. And my response to that is ‘so what’. What do you actually get from that benchmark? A nice award, a moment in a magazine and some nice PR for sure. But do you get much more because you scored more in a set of questions, that someone else decided we’re important, than a few other firms? Does the scoring more really drive you to do things that matter for your organisation? Or does benchmarking become ‘saming’ and drive a whole load of organisations to do the same as each other?

Additionally some of these surveys drive to a preconceived view of the perfect culture or engagement defined by the designer. And that lo and behold every company you work with that uses that survey is told that they need to be more ‘XXXX’ (Substutute a name, a type a colour or whatever is used to categorise your culture or engagement) and that XXXX is the same for every one of them.

What does all this lead to? I’ve worked with an organisation that were told they needing to increase career planning to improve their engagement score, yet a large number of their people did manual roles and frankly had no interest in a career. I’ve seen people trying to hide who they are because their natural style doesn’t fit in with the cultural norm that the organisation had targetted. But most importantly I see a drive for sameness. Organisation after organisation with the same approaches because they are trying to be a fixed pattern of the ‘perfect culture/engaged organisation’ as defined by a survey/model.

My view is that your organisation is unique and its success is predicated by using that uniqueness to do things that other organisations don’t do. Doing the same as a competitor will at best leave you second and at worst drive a culture that is counter-innovative I.e where innovation is not ‘how we do things around here’ because you will be saying to your people that ‘doing what others do is what we do around here’. Your culture is a unique component in your ability to be better than the other organisations that you compare yourself to. Therefore, surely your culture has to be unique too and to fit your unique view of ‘how we do things around here’ to drive that competitive advantage. That also means that the way that you work with your employees has to fit your uniqueness and if they are the right employees, there because they want to be part of your uniqueness then won’t they be engaged? i.e. engagement is an outcomes of how you organisation works, not an objective in itself. As one CEO recently said to me ‘when I arrived here there had just been an engagement survey run, and I was being pressured to do something to improve aspects of that. I felt that taking action in that way was trite, and employees would see it as such. So I’ve engaged our teams in our vision, the direction we want to head in, and how they are a part of that. If that engages them, then I am on the right track’. A few months later their next engagement survey showed a 30% uplift. Engagement was a result of engaging.

In summary, own your culture, don’t let anyone else own it for you.
Don’t define what it looks like based on anyone else’s view of the perfect culture as you lose your opportunity for advantage. A cultural vision of all being nice and collaborative may sound great, but if it alienates those with a competitive go getting edge have a think about how competitive you would be in the future without them.
Measure what you need to measure to show that you are doing what needs done to live that vision of your organisation.
Engage people in real ways and not just to get a better survey score; staff see through that and resent it anyway.

Be Unique. Don’t be sheep, huddling together round the same tools for comfort.

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