Why you should Change an Organizational Culture Slowly

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Changing Organization Cultures > Forum > Why you should Change an Organizational Culture Slowly

Why you should Change an Organizational Culture Slowly
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
It is normally advisable to proceed slowly / gradually when attempting to change an existing organizational culture.

Reasons for not changing organization cultures fast / abruptly are that the RESISTANCE TO SUCH CHANGE is likely to increase if:

1. The changes are more comprehensive or faster;

2. The changes intervene deeper in the private life of people;

3. The people involved are less aware of the reasons for the change;

4. The current culture is stronger.

Why You Should Change an Organizational Culture Slowly
Graham Williams, Management Consultant, South Africa, Premium Member
The larger the organization, the more likely will there be a variety of sub cultures - and changes need to occur (if not in tandem) then certainly congruently and in step.
When people in an organisation have embedded artifacts, processes, beliefs, ways of behaving - the shifts here may take time, people will experience loss in various forms; and there is sometimes merit, as the changes are shepherded through the organisation, in going at the speed of your slowest sheep to avoid negative disruption...

Stress Levels Will Be Under Control
srinivas, Lecturer, India, Member
A change at any part of organization will have consequences for every other part of the organization. It is necessary to understand those consequences of an intended change.
A slow rate of change will keep the stress levels of the people involved in the delivery mechanism at an acceptable level.

Changing Culture Carefully
Maurice Hogarth, Consultant, United Kingdom, Premium Member
People accept change that is personally advantageous. If there is "something in it for me" then it will be accepted willingly. If there's disruption with little gain then it may not be worth the hassle. If there is positive disadvantage then there will be passive or active resistance.
Some cultures may be changed quite quickly and dramatically; as in a change from a negative manager to a positive manager style. Where a work atmosphere has been essentially negative-neutral and there is an acceptance of a need to change then the degree of distrust in those still in place will need to be overcome slowly and carefully.
As is normal in management situations there is no one right answer. Any approach, however, has to be careful (as in care and full of) in relation to the current atmosphere, vested interests and the desire and cost of getting better.

Good Luck on Changing a Culture
Warren Miller, CPA, CFA, United States, Member
I won't say it's impossible, but, most of the time, the likelihood of changing the culture of a company that has at least 50 employees and has been in business for a decade or more is somewhere between slim and none. And Slim just left town. It is tough because key employees tend to be self-selecting - that is, they stay with a company because of its culture, not in spite of it.
Moreover, getting rid of them in hopes of then being able to change the culture is dicey. That is because the 'routines'--how work gets done--reflect the values and how-things-work perspectives of those key people. So, even if they're not there, the routines are. Changing those is highly, highly disruptive. Not impossible, mind you, but difficult and very time-consuming. Even then, there is no guarantee of success.
Finally, when key people leave an organization, their high-performing subordinates often go with them. This creates further disruption and difficulty in the wake of their departures.

Good Luck, Indeed: Cultural Transformation is crap.
Tom Wilson, HR Consultant, United States, Premium Member
@Warren Miller, CFA, CPA: Trotsky observed that trying to transform a culture is like trying to resurrect a cemetary.
You make my point entirely to leverage culture as it exists and focus on the instrumental outcomes of that culture. I first became aware of the "cultural transformation" movement among the corporate HR community in 1990 and have always thought it was a bad idea that was fraught with the potential for abuse in the name of "culturally appropriate behavior", which has been overfullfilled. The reality series "Survivor" is popular because it reflects the reality of employment in organizations engaged in constant corporate cultural manipulation to elicit perfect employee conformity to legislated HR norms designed to produce Dilbert and are characterized by some form of throwing people off the island for largely arbitrary metrics.
Cultural transformation is crap.

The SIZE Is More Relevant than the PACE of the Change
Javier Elenes, Business Consultant, Mexico, Member
The pace of the change (fast or slow) is not a decision of the executives of the organization. It is dictated by the enviroment.
There are two ways to make the change: The Manager Way who PUSHES the organization and the Leader Way who PULLS the organization.
The greater the change, the more it requires a great leader (who can create a large pull effect). Take note that the PULLING (leadership) way is faster than the PUSHING (management) way.

Careful Dance of (Culture) Change...
Gregory Johnson, Coach, United States, Premium Member
It would seem that someone is always promoting CHANGE in many features of an organization. I always ask the first question: "Why?". Then there is the second question, "From what to what?".
The PROCESS must have a base in the plan of a superior COMMUNICATIONS strategic intervention(s). The who, what and how of the "Key Communications" interventions must be carefully designed.
There are so many VARIABLES to consider when even thinking about a change effort. Is it domestic or global/international? What is a reasonable forecast of revenue and a dip in productivity? What will the monetary expense be to the organization internally and externally? What will the human expense be? What might the public relations/reactions be?
Culture change requires a careful dance with all these variables, because it is a major undertaking that must be well planned PRIOR to ANY announcement.

Big Change / Small Changes Considerations
Samuell Yew, Project Manager, Malaysia, Member
Culture is a delicate and sensitive thing. It’s not visible and it’s often not discussed. So if culture change is to be effective, it needs to be managed well.
Gradual and controlled changes are very effective if we have a clear plan.
Bite-size changes are easy to implement and monitored and easy to align if they get sidetracked.
Big changes are possible too, but there are a lot of considerations to be made, including the size of the team to manage it, and also the need to manage the shock sparked by the drastic change.
The decision is therefore dependent on the resources available.
One downside of incremental change is the length of the period involved. Sometimes a prolonged period causes us to lose sight of the original intent.

Size and Complexity Affect the Pace of Culture Change
Steven Keleman, Ed.D., Management Consultant, United States, Member
By its very nature, my experience is culture change often runs at its own pace. What affects any rate of change:
1. The size of the organization, its breadth and depth, and
2. The complexity of the change.
Breadth and depth regulate the extent of the change within the organization, how many departments involved and how many levels.
Complexity tells us the length of time required to understand the change: its purpose, reasons for change, the change targets, the level of effort needed for the change to occur, and to embrace the change.

Why You Should Change an Organization Culture Slowly
Graham Williams, Management Consultant, South Africa, Premium Member
Steven K makes good points eloquently. Depending on the size and nature of the change, pace may vary during the process of course.
So for example, pace can accelerate once a tipping point is reached.
I found that many times it is like doing the foxtrot: slow, slow, quick, quick...

The Personality Matters
Iraklis Goniadis, Business Consultant, Greece, Member
The more an individual identifies himself through his role or job within an organization and not by his personality, the more he reacts negatively to the changes that affect him. A highly qualified person who trusts himself is more receptive to change and can become an agent of change, a necessary pillar.
In any case, knowing the causes, conditions, and the goal of change is desirable for everyone to overcome the momentum of inertia that so often proves to be stronger than the momentum of change.

Sub-cultures in Different Departments
Qazi Ata, Consultant, Pakistan, Member
@Graham Williams: Very true, large organizations have sub-organizational cultures. It’s important to be aware of that. For example, in my last organization, every department had a different culture.
Effective communication down the line must account for that to contribute to successful organization culture change.

Culture (Change) Can't be Done Quickly
Abdourahmane DIOP, Management Consultant, Senegal, Member
A culture change does not become a reality in a day. It is the result of interactions over a longer or shorter period, leading to the gradual abandonment of norms, rules and behavior for the gradual adoption of others.
From this point of view, a change in organizational culture can't be done quickly. It is necessarily the object of a thoughtful, planned, executed, monitored and evaluated undertaking, with inevitable actions of adjustment as the actions unfold. Obviously, one can understand all the relativity of the notion of "speed" in the change. Does a year mean "fast"? Must we understand two or three years?
What is important to remember is that the change of organizational culture can't be appreciated with relevance until after a certain time. It is not just a matter of giving up practices or references for a time, but of definitely changing the frame of reference.
Un changement de culture ne s'implémente pas en un jour. Elle est le fruit d'interactions sur une période plus ou moins longue, entrainant l'abandon progressive de normes, de règles et de comportement pour l'adoption progressive d'autres.
De ce point de vue, un changement de culture organisationnelle ne peut se faire à la va-vite. C'est forcément l'objet d'une entreprise réfléchie, planifiée, exécutée, suivie et évaluée, avec les incontournables actions d'ajustement au fur et à mesure que l'action est déroulée.
Evidemment, on peut comprendre toute la relativité de la notion de "rapidité" dans le changement. Une année signifie t-elle "rapide"? Faut-il comprendre deux ou trois ans?
Ce qu'il faut retenir, c'est que le changement de culture organisationnelle ne saurait s'apprécier avec pertinence qu'au bout d'un certain temps. Il n'est pas uniquement question d'abandonner pour un temps des pratiques ou des références, mais véritablement de définitivement changer de cadre de référence.

Contingency Planning and Cultural Resilence
Tom Wilson, HR Consultant, United States, Premium Member
@Abdourahmane DIOP: Well, in general, my purpose for enriching a culture has to do with sustainability and resilience. I've presented elsewhere in 12manage a protocol for large system change that employs process theology to put any sized population through an 18 month undoing process to introduce 5th Wave High Performance into a system for that purpose.
The objective is to add patterns of collective action planning, decision making and implementation into the population and let the culture take care of itself. Tradoc introduced an organization effectiveness version, "Army Family Team Building", in 1994 that has been an essential force multiplier in regards to readiness since 911.
As an independent change agent, I don't want to screw with the culture anymore than necessary to put the process in motion in order to ensure ideological neutrality and culturally appropriate presentation (the Army version is not appropriate for civilian populations).

What are we Trying to Change Anyway?
David Figuera, Consultant, Venezuela, Member
Inreed we must be aware that in general terms, culture does not change overnight. Thus, pretending to accelerate any change might actually be a deterrent to our objectives. Organizational culture is strongly related to time and the longer a company has been around, the deeper its culture is entrenched.
What is it that we are trying to change in an organization? Attitudes? Processes? The degree of identification and loyalty to the company? Bad behaviors? Not everything is a "cultural change". If a certain technology must be introduced or dismissed, so be it. We are not necessarily "changing culture" there.
Any new organizational "cultural change" has to be carefully analyzed and fully backed by the leaders of the company. And they must lead by example. Anything less than that and failure will be the certain outcome.

Change is Constant - Whether Slow or Fast!
Mallika T R, Manager, India, Member
Change is necessary. Change w.r.t. culture is taking place everywhere. However, there is also resistance to change by those who are happy being in their comfort zone. Change brings about some discomfort.
If the organisation is small, then change is faster as there is better control. Whereas if the organisation is large consisting of a few thousands or more employees and is located in many countries, the change in culture is definitely slow and would depend heavily upon the leaders exercising the new behaviors, attitudes, values, etc. in their respective locations.

Changing Organization Cultures is Needed
Graham Williams, Management Consultant, South Africa, Premium Member
Maybe I'm being simplistic, but:
  1. The world is changing - increasing diversification, technology advances, competition, challenges stemming from environmental, economic, social arenas, the rate, pace, magnitude of change...
  2. Also changing (sometimes as a consequence) is the way we assimilate knowledge, communicate, resolve conflict and issues, make sense of things, respond to innovations, organise...
  3. Culture itself is becoming a means to provide purpose and engage, influence values, boost reputation...
So, if all of this means that change is happening, and there is an impact on what we do and how we do things, and how quickly we need to change to survive and thrive - then surely culture change is inevitable? So I don't understand the "Why change?" lobby. And we need to become more deft at shifting, nudging, altering culture while being sensitive to the human dynamics (individual, team, department, organization) that influence the pace of change...

Lessons Learned About the Need to Change an Organizational Culture Slowly
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
Thank you all who participated.
I'd like to summarize the key takeaways (so far) from our debate.
We started out with the statement that it is normally advisable to proceed slowly / gradually when attempting to change an existing organizational culture. Because otherwise the stress and RESISTANCE to the culture change will increase to such an extent, that it will effectively inhibit the whole effort.
Most people agreed with this statement, especially when LARGE CORPORATIONS or organizations are concerned, with lots of divisions and sub-cultures operating in multiple countries.
Greg Johnson rightly said that there are many variables/factors that must be considered and put in place before starting the culture change effort. Unfortunately this is making things very COMPLEX. Mallika T R mentioned that a key factor is leadership + management support. If the key executives aren't prepared to "lead (and keep on leading) by example", then forget about it... Some people even dismissed the possibility of changing an existing organization culture altogether!
At the same time cultural change, in particular becoming more flexible / agile, is extremely IMPORTANT for many companies in our FAST-CHANGING WORLD as Graham Williams rightly mentioned.
I am convinced that Changing an organizational culture is possible, but it "just" requires a long, sustained, well-prepared, and well-managed effort with PERSISTENT LEADERSHIP AND MANAGEMENT SUPPORT. And isn't that our job as leaders and management professionals?

The Leadership Process is the Key
Jose Luis Roces, Professor, Argentina, Premium Member
I agree with Jaap de Jonge’s opinion, after 25 years working as a manager on culture transformation, the key factor is the leadership coalition inside the institution. If they have a shared vision, use common practices and they shown a coherent and consistent style of leadership, trust and credibility happen.
The organizational culture is an emergent property of the leadership process. So if you want to change the culture, focus on your leaders. That’s the main reason why culture changes slowly.

Speed - versus - Surviving
William E. Linzey, Business Consultant, United States, Member
Changing an Organization's Culture is done for a reason. And that reason is the former culture is not conducive to some key performing metric. That KPI, as we look at culture, is how our people (employees of the company) interact and react with each other and our prospects and customers, impacting our revenue and profit.
To change an entire culture, we must ask, why the change and to what degree of urgency should it be approached.
One example is if you have a one bad cancer cell, would you take your time in addressing the cell or would you be aggressive knowing that without immediate action, cancer will spread? Now replace "cancer" with "a bad employee". If that employee is counter-culture, and let's say you have 20 employees, will you wait till the counter-culture spreads and destroys the 19 or would immediately fire that one employee? Same goes for an organizational change of culture. My recommendation: make the bold move as a leader and make the changes strategically but with urgency.

Organization Culture Sometimes Changes very Quickly
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, Premium Member
The speed of oculture change can vary. One phenomenon of a complex adaptive system is the Butterfly Effect. If a constraint change passes a positive tipping point, acceptance could go viral and a shift in the culture will be immediate.

Cultural Evolution or Trauma
Maurice Hogarth, Consultant, United Kingdom, Premium Member
Culture is a consequence of: the Senior Managers’ behaviour x Environmental turbulences.
The changing (recruitment/training) of managers etc., will, through their attitudes and behaviours, change the atmosphere-culture within their area of responsibility.
Deliberately changing culture to match personal belief may require slow, evolutionary, change. Acceptance of change requires demand.
Turbulences impacting on the organisation (Political, Economic, Social & Technological: both external & internal) will drive process and cultural change. To meet an external demand may require rapid/traumatic (survival) change.
Changed culture in one department will subsequently effect those it relates to, so, (slowly?) the organisation?

Is the Existing Culture Toxic, Poor, Bureaucratic or Flexible and Innovative?
David Wilson, Manager, Canada, Premium Member
In organizations with toxic cultures, change must be quick and decisive.
In poor cultures, the problem is typically at the executive leadership levels. In trying to change an organization slowly, there may be a negative reaction from those parts or the organization where resistance will be intense, significant and very reactive. Where the organization's leadership has poor working relations with external stakeholders, slow change may not be sufficient to enable a successive shift in culture.
Based on my experience, a bureaucratic organization with narrow spans of control and too many management levels, will be more likely to experience a poor culture. Organizations focused on empowering employees, allowing delegation and supporting innovation will be more likely to have a positive culture, especially if they have fewer management levels and broader spans of controls. Peter Senge et al (Dance of Change, 1999) and John P. Kotter (Leading Change, 1996) illustrate successful change concepts.

Size, culture and complexity.
Mariano Talanchuk, HR Consultant, Argentina, Member
@Javier Elenes: Size is important, but each specific culture has its own rhythm and cadence of change, which of course is related with size. People dictate the rhythm of change. Leaders are important if the followers want to follow... (motivation and incentives). Those are the internal aspects and biases; and of course, people in the environment (customers, suppliers, partnerts, etc.) are also very important.
Complexity, of the organization and of the environment, is also another important parameter that you should deal with.

Reply to David Wilson
William E. Linzey, Business Consultant, United States, Member
@David Wilson: Well said, David. The purpose of changing organizational culture is due to a challenge with the current one.
Based on my experience, slow change can actually hurt the organization, creating another layer of cultural issues to address.

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