Change is happening all the time, with some business analysts claiming that the volume, velocity, and variety of change has reached levels never seen before in the economic climate. But that doesn’t mean it is quick and easy to manage, particularly when it comes to the evolution of a company’s culture.

This is typical because culture runs deep — it is profoundly embedded within the DNA of an organization, whether intentional or not. From a firm’s approach to decision making to the personality it conveys to the public, culture manifests itself in many ways within a business and is usually difficult to shift.

That’s not to say it cannot — or should not — be nurtured or perhaps overhauled entirely. Even family-owned organizations with deeply-engrained, trans-generational values must remain apace with market needs and wants — especially because two-thirds of global consumers now buy on belief (2018 Earned Brand study). So, if change is resisted and a business simply sticks to ‘the way it’s always been done’ — as is so often the case — it may soon find its future in jeopardy.

Providing, therefore, that a requirement for cultural change is identified and indeed embraced, who should own the project?

The management team

Gone are the days when we operate in an autocratic business environment where employees must follow the owner’s rules. So, a cultural change project should not be shaped by a management team alone. However, the direction — or buy-in, at least — should ideally come from the top. If the board is wholly invested in what’s going to happen next, there is a far greater chance that change will be empowered to manifest throughout the workforce and beyond.

Creative professionals

Typically, attractive cultures are those with a strong sense of purpose, reflected in the principles that guide how employees do things, and resonating in the personality of colleagues, from the senior management team to the shop floor. Such cultures are compelling for both the people who work within/alongside these organizations and the customers who buy from them.
It is no coincidence that these three Ps are also the bedrock of a solid brand. So, because identifying and if necessary remolding these elements could prove critical to driving the cultural change project forward, creative professionals should also be involved — whether in-house or outsourced.

But, to revert to the previous point, the management team needs to firstly understand the value that design professionals can have, and secondly support them in their work. A combined effort is required.

Wider stakeholders

However, if the entire organization is to truly ‘live and breathe’ this new brand-driven, cultural direction, far more stakeholders need to be included in the project.
A purpose helps to define a culture, culture builds a team, and teams build a business. So, if employees aren’t 100% on board, it could all fall flat.
That’s why any efforts to enhance or reshape a company’s cultural identity should ideally involve the entire workforce — not a mean feat in an organization of size. HR departments sometimes step up and take this mantle, but just because they are aware of every employee doesn’t mean they have strong lines of communication with each of them, nor are they bound to know how to articulate the exploratory conversations that should ideally unfold.

Collaborative workshops facilitated by an external party, on the other hand, allow for these valuable discussions to take place, and if employees can have a strategic input into what happens next, that all-important buy-in is much more likely when the change process eventually begins.

Customer workshops are usually extremely value-adding too —your brand is not what you say it is, it’s actually what your customers say.

Change champions

In terms of the execution of the change process itself, the three-stage change management framework modeled by physicist and social scientist Kurt Lewin has remained one of the most prominent tools in business, since its development in the 1940s. It has long been accepted that behavior — however entrenched — needs to firstly be unfrozen for change to occur before new principles are then solidified (or refrozen).

However, with the business environment seemingly in a constant state of flux in some way, shape, or form, isn’t it arguably more beneficial for organizations to remain in a fluid, adaptable, and change-ready state? That way, further change can be encouraged to occur, even if only incrementally.

Organizations may, therefore, find merit in appointing cross-departmental cultural change champions as the project unfolds, and beyond. This will enable post-change successes to be celebrated, the sustainability of change to be monitored, and a somewhat iterative mindset to be maintained rather than allowing a ‘new way of doing things’ to be refrozen, which may take some time to unfreeze once again.

It is the premise of design thinking to collaborate and co-create to solve strategic business challenges, and the challenges don’t get much trickier than navigating cultural change. So, the involvement of many should not be feared or frowned upon when it comes to embarking on such a project. In fact, it ought to be welcomed.

Image source: Werner Du plessis