In business the only constant is change. That’s a good thing. Without change we don’t grow, and if we aren’t growing, we’re usually stagnating and dying. Changing your organization is difficult; I’ve heard it described as akin to turning and ocean liner -- it can be done, but not quickly, without jeopardizing your success. And while people will eventually accept change, they seldom forgive it. Here are some tips for changing your culture as painlessly as possible:
Make the case for change.
"All change comes from the barrel of a gun," Mao Tse Tung famously said. Change is not possible if people are content with the way things are; corporate inertia is dangerous because it makes it difficult to rapidly adapt to changes in the economy, to the introduction of disruptive technology, or to some other unexpected and critical need to change.
To garner support for change, a leader must convince the organization that the current state of affairs is unsustainable, dangerous, or otherwise injurious to the company’s long-term success. If people don’t believe that change is essential they will fight it tooth and nail.
Articulate a clear vision of the desired state.
Many of us have worked for companies where the strategy, corporate structure, or org chart seem to be in a constant state of flux. It’s frustrating and difficult to get on board when you know that the direction will shift again as soon as the CEO reads another business book on an overseas flight. The need for change is well established, but the C-suite seems to be at a loss as to how we need to change, exactly. Developing a simple and clear vision of what the change looks like and how it needs to be structured will help people support it, even if it's unpleasant.
Create clear next steps toward the desired state.
Understanding why the organization needs to change and being able to visualize a sustainable company that is able not only to meet emerging business challenges but also to thrive in tomorrow’s reality is essential. But it’s not enough to bring lasting change. For true culture change you must have a logical and methodical plan for bringing the change to life. These next steps will lead your organization to adopt the values and practices necessary for a new culture to take hold.
When developing your next steps, be sure to build in points for people to acclimate to the changes. Culture change is a bit like climbing a mountain -- you can’t just rush up the side and plant your flag at the top; you have to stop at intervals to let your organization adjust to the new climate. Once they've caught their breath, your organization is ready to again push on toward the summit.