Organizational Culture Can Make or Break Change Management

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Nov 03, 2023

Organizational Culture Can Make or Break Change Management

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Written by Charmydevine Beane

Category: Change Management

To initiate and achieve organizational change, individual behavior must change, so it is crucial to understand how individuals in your organization respond to change and how organizational culture influences their behavior. In this article, I share a practical approach to understanding both, so you can create a plan to proactively manage resistance and successfully implement change.

Understanding individual behavior toward change

Humans demonstrate a range of emotions and reactions to change. Common reactions include resistance, fear, and enthusiasm, and these reactions can shift over time. The widely referenced Change Curve model defines four key stages: shock/denial, anger/fear, acceptance, and commitment. There’s a certain “finality” associated with each of these terms, so when I work with organizations on change management, I refer to the stages with terms that feel more flexible: awareness, resistance, willingness to change, learning new skills, practice, and maintaining the change.

To help individuals through the awareness and resistance stages, you should consider ways to better engage them, so they understand the changes to come, why they are happening, and probably most importantly, “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM). During the “willingness to change” stage, you may want to implement changes in small steps with plenty of one-on-one coaching, so as not to overwhelm.  These targeted change management activities should continue throughout the evolution.

Leveraging an assessment to gauge employees’ fear of change and perceptions of past change initiatives will provide valuable insight into how each individual will react to the current change, so you can proactively manage those reactions.

What is organizational culture and how does it influence individual behavior?

Organizational culture is a set of values, beliefs, and rules that influence personal behavior in your organization. For example, some organizations cultivate a learning culture, in which employees are encouraged to participate in continuous education opportunities, try new things, and innovate. An organization with a learning culture is one where individuals are more likely to readily adopt new ways of thinking and working. Another example is a culture of engaged and proactive leaders. Leadership is the most influential factor in organizational culture, because leaders set the purpose and vision for the change. They also inspire others and demonstrate enthusiasm for change.

Positively or negatively, organizational culture will impact business initiatives and the ability to adapt to changes. That’s why it is important to understand your organization’s culture, and more specifically your organization’s tolerance for change, or more formally, organizational change maturity, as measured by a change readiness assessment.

What is a change readiness assessment?

The primary focus of a change readiness assessment is to reduce risks associated with organizational change and help address potential barriers. Typically, the assessment defines how change impacts individuals as they transition from current state to their future state of personal readiness.

According to Prosci, the five capabilities that define change management maturity include: leadership, application, competencies, standardization, and socialization. The readiness assessment can provide many insights that, if acted upon, increase the likelihood of successful change adoption, including increased stakeholder buy-in and support of the change. For example, the assessment may indicate that your organization’s previous change initiatives were perceived as unsuccessful; therefore, clear communication of change goals and milestones will be needed to launch another change initiative.

Common topics to include in your organizational assessment (devise questions that will help to reveal levels of awareness and tolerance, reactions and experience):

  • People – stress management, risk tolerance
  • Technology – tolerance of new technology, experience with previous changes
  • Time – reaction to stable vs. unexpected schedules
  • Communication – awareness of changes, leadership messaging
  • Processes – satisfaction with existing processes and workflows

Examples of change readiness assessment statements (respondents are typically asked to rate the “trueness” of these statements on a scale of 1 to 5):

  • My leadership has created a culture supportive of change.
  • I understand what I need to do to support the program.
  • I receive communications about the program often enough to meet my needs.
  • My organization has the right processes and technology in place to implement the change.
  • My organization consistently meets or exceeds key metrics for our projects.

Understanding organizational culture can help you create plans to drive alignment around change management transformation, boost employee performance, improve innovation, and align the transformation initiative to the overall strategic plan. Figuring out if your culture is ready to support change is essential to help you achieve the desired outcomes of your change initiative. So, what tactics will you use to understand organizational culture?

Impact Advisors’ change experts can help your organization understand the meaning of change management, choose a change management methodology aligned with that definition, and achieve the objectives you’ve defined for the change.


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