For a business to achieve what it sets out to achieve it is crucial to foster a strong, healthy, and culturally sustainable organisational environment. When resilience, engagement, productivity, and improvement are the outcomes promised by culture change, it is easy to say that culture change is needed. Working out what this means in practice is much harder, and one of the recurring challenges of business.
Culture change is about people – what they think, how they feel, what they do. You can restructure, rebrand, and reorganise, you can change the language of the workplace and re-arrange the furniture; but if the cultural climate of the organisation doesn’t substantially shift, then all you are left with are a series of very expensive cosmetic changes, even higher levels of employee cynicism, and a greater culture-change challenge.
How does an organisational culture defeat the best intentions of its leadership? How does an organisation slide from a career of excellence towards a cultural climate of employee dissatisfaction, low productivity, and stagnation? How can we understand the dynamics of culture change enough to enable us to not only understand what’s going wrong, but to provide us with clear guidance for pragmatically and effectively ameliorating organisational problems?
The interventions of culture change are called for in times of difficulty, stagnation, or crisis. Complex organisations, bureaucratic systems, and institutional practice have shown themselves over centuries to be well suited to facilitating the particular demands of business, profit, and economic growth. However, latent within organisations, bureaucracies, and institutions is a structural logic that consistently undermines the best intentions of the people within them. One of the key challenges of organisational leadership is balancing the benefits of organisational life, the gravities of organisational stricture, and the more personal dynamics of social interaction. Finding a balance is not impossible, but it remains improbable so long as the tenor of the cultural climate is driven most by goal-achievement, command-and-control, chronic high pressure, and financial growth rather than a more integrative understanding of cultural sustainability.
Most organisations committed to culture change focus on changing visible norms, customs, and behaviours within their organisation, which tend to have little impact on performance. A large number of small-scale changes may not effect the necessary shifts in the organisational environment to embed true, lasting, meaningful change.