The smart way to change your company’s culture

April 27, 2018
| United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait +9 more
  • Bahrain
  • Oman
  • Jordan
  • Lebanon
  • South Africa
  • Turkey
  • Poland
  • Russian Federation
  • Greece
By Marjola Rintjema

Change. Like it or loathe it, every company must embrace it to achieve continued business success in an evolving economy. When a changing market calls for a significant shift in a business’s objectives and strategy, altering organisational structure and policies will not be effective unless a culture change is established to align a company and its employees with the new strategy. Especially with the transformation and growth ongoing in the region, we increasingly see the importance of building employee capabilities and engaging them through shaping organisational culture.

But how can a culture be changed effectively, especially in companies where the workforce has grown used to the status quo? Although every organisation and situation are unique, we have found five common levers that organisations should focus on to influence their organisational culture and change employee behaviours.

  1. Establish a clear goal - As the objective for a culture change is to better support a company in achieving its strategic goals, it’s imperative that all employees are clear about both the company’s goals and the culture that is required to achieve them. For example, if a company’s goals are around creating innovative products, it would need a culture in which out of the box thinking is encouraged and risk taking is promoted. This is why it is important to spend time on gaining clarity on the company’s goals upfront and ensuring that all senior management have a clear understanding of the direction the company needs to take, as well as the type of culture the company needs to be successful. In fact, the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s report - Leading Culture Change: Employee engagement and public service transformation - states that a strong strategic narrative that all staff members buy into is vital for culture change, and a clearly defined organisational purpose is integral to the narrative.
  2. Ask your employees - Employers seeking to implement change must look to their employees to understand their beliefs and opinions on the company’s goals and culture. Involving employees in voicing their opinions on the current and desired state of the organisation will increase their belief in the new culture. Avoid the temptation to assume you know what your workforce thinks, because there is often a big discrepancy between what employers think their employees believe and the reality. As shown in Willis Towers Watson’s 2016 Global Talent Management & Rewards and Global Workforce Studies, while employers think that organisational culture is not a main cause for stress (they rank it as the 10th most important factor), employees, on the other hand, rank organisational culture as 3rd most important factor that causes stress, right after inadequate staffing and low pay.
  3. Conduct a gap analysis - A company must assess where it currently sits compared to the desired culture. This will indicate what must be done to get the business to where it wants to be, depending on the established goals and direction. If you do not objectively assess your company’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of culture, there is a risk of embarking on the culture change journey without an awareness of how far your company is from its desired goal. The gap analysis also provides actionable data on cultural attributes, giving you key focus areas to tackle when trying to change culture. Without this knowledge, time and effort may be lost on irrelevant or less impactful aspects of the company culture.
  4. Begin with leadership – One of the most important aspects of culture change is that it needs to start from the top. Senior executives must be fully on-board for culture change to work. If those at the top of a company do not understand or believe in the change being implemented, they will not be able to fully champion it and bring employees on-board.

    This means that a company needs strong leaders who not only embody the change they want to see in the overall workforce, but who also serve as credible role models. They need to become aware of their own behaviour and whether or not it is aligned with the desired culture. If not, they need to understand how to change. Bringing in an external source to facilitate leadership behaviour change and provide feedback is usually a good idea, as it brings in a fresh perspective and can create insights that are not obtainable from within the organisation’s internal viewpoint.
  5. Maximise employee engagement - According to Willis Towers Watson’s 2017 report Reset Leadership Expectations to Engage Today’s Workforce, if employees are to become highly engaged, they need to be given the right tools and resources to do their jobs effectively, as well as being energised by a work environment that supports their physical, social and emotional wellbeing.

    With this in mind, employers should provide a variety of interventions that appeal to different aspects of wellbeing and that are linked to the specific culture change they want to establish. This may include fostering dialogue and a sense of involvement through meetings and social media platforms; training, workshops and collaboration networks to improve skills; incentives and competitions to reinforce desired behaviours; as well as a range of social events and activities, designed to promote collaboration and camaraderie.

Avoiding the ultimate pitfall

The most important part of culture change is sustainability. For such change to work, it must be long-term, yet many organisations fail to achieve this because they fall victim to the final pitfall of culture change management: viewing the change as an isolated intervention rather than something that involves every aspect of the organisation over time.

This is a trap that can be avoided through a clear focus and the involvement of all members of staff in the process, changing their mind-sets along the way. It is important to remember that all aspects of the business must be brought in line with the culture, and employees need to be empowered to come up with initiatives to make this change happen.

As a result, employees will embrace the new culture and feel the new way of working is their own, which is crucial for the organisation’s culture change to be sustainable.

About the author: By Marjola Rintjema, Middle East Lead Consultant – Communication and Change Management

Marjola Rintjema

Marjola Rintjema is Lead Consultant: Change Management and Organisational Development Middle East at Willis Towers Watson Dubai. Marjola has 20 years of experience in change management, organisational culture, EVP, employee engagement, communication and talent management. Prior to joining WTW Middle East in 2012, she was senior consultant in the Towers Watson Talent & Reward practice in Amsterdam, and senior consultant People & Change at Atos Consulting. With expertise across multiple areas including financial services, telecom and the public sector, Marjola holds an MSc in communication science from the University of Amsterdam.