When it comes to launching a culture change initiative, who exactly should be involved? This is a common question, and the answer is everyone! An organisation’s culture is owned by everyone who works there, so organisational change should be co-created, and carried out by the efforts of diverse individuals in collaboration.
The more people involved in the change process, the higher the chance of success.
However, although lots of organisations now aspire to be less hierarchical, the reality for many of them is that they are still managed by one individual leader or a small group of leaders. And surprisingly, it is often this group of people who are least engaged in culture change processes. Severe time scarcity is one reason for this; another is that organisational culture is often considered both separate from and less important than other aspects of business, such as sales, technology, marketing, and finance. Therefore, when starting a culture change initiative, a significant amount of energy should still be invested in working with those at the top of the organisation.
In this article, I will suggest some practices for engaging and involving senior leadership in culture change initiatives.
A dedicated culture transformation programme for the management board
Help to prepare your senior leaders for cultural change with a programme that will engage them in the following:
The direction of the culture change and its connection with company strategy
The dynamics of introducing culture change
Developing new competencies, attitudes, and behaviours
Understanding how to monitor change
Strengthening individual roles and group collaboration
Taking acts of leadership in service to the culture change
Programmes of this nature not only invest your leaders in the culture change but also strengthen their cooperation as a group and their positive ties with the rest of the organisation. It is an opportunity to achieve business results but also to fortify well-being and working relationships.
CEO playback sessions
Adopting cultural change and new mindsets – and discarding old ones – is a process that takes time for everyone. Playback sessions are a great way for leaders to hear feedback from their people about any inconsistencies or old habits that are not in keeping with the spirit of the cultural transformation. For example, a company president who gave an inspiring speech about flattening structures and widening participation undermined their efforts when they retired to a separate room to celebrate with special guests from the company HQ. The president may have merely wanted to take special care of their guests, but they didn’t realise how hypocritical this behaviour appeared to their people. Playback sessions are vital for bringing situations like this to their attention. It also provides an opportunity for senior leaders to engage with and be directly accountable to their people, garnering vital feedback on their attitudes, behaviours and performance.
Peer networking and support
In the process of culture change, it is important that senior leaders have space for discussion with others in similar positions facing similar challenges. Peer networking of this kind provides a valuable opportunity to exchange experiences, inspire, and support each other. At Impact, we organise ‘In Market Journeys’, which pair management boards and business leaders with others for whom the topic of organisational culture is also key. A carefully selected discussion partner – often from a different industry or country but with similar experiences – can inspire to action.
Changing behaviours and attitudes is not an easy or solitary task, and access to valuable peer networks is an effective way to support senior leaders.
CEOs, presidents, and other senior leaders are not the only participants of culture change, nor are they the most important. But they are important; without their support, culture change is often reduced to a strategic goal rather than something that is lived and breathed into action by everyone in the organisation. Try the practices outlined above to engage the people at the top of your organisation and to ensure that their support for culture change is reflected in their attitudes and actions.
Ewa Rolley is GM of Impact Central Europe.
You might also like Ewa's article on Organisational culture change: the importance of having faith.