What is culture? I read a lot about it these days, particularly as a barrier to implementing change. Culture has become a curmudgeon. A general consensus has developed that solving “the way we do things around here” will bring implementation bliss to change management.
My only problem is that the more I read about culture the less I know what to do about it. It seems that we’re happy defining the problem without giving the specifics of a solution. Why wake a sleeping dog?
Come on – we’ve got to do better than that. It’s time that we parsed culture into its essential elements and then offered up ways to change it? We all know the elements – they’re common to any change readiness assessment.
Management factors, such as:
- Organization design – with roles & responsibilities
- Planning processes – from strategic through business plans to projects
- Reporting & Measurement systems – for operations & programs
- Reward schemes – for compensation & recognition
- Procedures, processes, & controls
Leadership factors, such as:
- Setting a vision
- Inspiring the passion in all employees
- Communicating authentically & transparently
You can make up your own list but at the end of the day isn’t that the definition of “culture.” Doesn’t that describe, “how we do things around here?” Aren’t these the things we’re trying to change so that an organization can alter or accelerate the path that it’s on?
Here’s an example. Several years ago I was working at Whirlpool, a great company with many great brands; however, at the time resource power & control rested in the vertical operations – those who designed, manufactured, distributed, and sold the durable appliances. Brand managers worked horizontally to influence changes across these verticals.
For many months my team worked with the Kitchen-Aid brand to develop ideas for product innovations and enhanced customer experiences. We were neck deep in great ideas & little results. Efforts at implementation veered off course and generally withered. At the heart of the problem was Whirlpool’s refined and efficient planning process. There was a drumbeat that was known and obeyed by all. Culture was eating change.
Once we figured out that planning was a barrier to innovation the executive team agreed that we could work with the finance & planning people to redesign the planning system. It took close to a year and involved things such as:
- New mandates for planning sub-teams to make them more diverse & distribute decision make power
- Criteria to get change initiatives out of the regular flow of decision making and monitoring
- Detailed revision of forms that drove the process
In essence we needed to change the rules of the game if we were going to change resource allocation decision. Culture wasn’t the problem, the disciplined legacy planning process was.
I believe it’s time to expunge the “culture” word for change management. If change isn’t happening we need to disaggregate “how things are done,” roll-up our sleeves and change the rules of the game.