Most of the work I do with organisations relates to change. I might be asked to help with an organisational change that will impact upon established ways of working, or to help them to introduce new ways of thinking, learning or leading.
It’s usually never easy!
But it can be a lot easier if the leaders who are responsible for the change don’t assume that they can simply tell people that they are going to do something new. And expect that will do the job.
I have seen many examples where despite following a sensible step-change model, a change or new initiative simply does not land as hoped. There had been an assumption that with good consultation and a firm project plan, it would be possible to “paper-over” the old culture of an organisation or an existing way of working. It is sometimes hoped that because the “new” is bright, attractive and fashionable that the “bumps” underneath – those places where the change doesn’t really fit or seem that popular – won’t matter.
When we pause to think about it, is it surprising that change does not always go down well – even if it looks like something that everyone would welcome. Most of the aspects of an organisations existing culture are man-made [sic?!] And if there is one thing that people aren’t very good with as a rule, it is change. Even change for the better. (Anyone who has ever struggled to stay fit, slim or sober will tell you that!)
So what can we do to plan where change might stick and change might struggle? How can we identify the unwritten rules of the organisation that might get in the way of the formal plan?
It is helpful to map out the organisation. Imagine the business as an island viewed from above with a bird-eye view. This aerial perspective would reveal the island’s own contours and the unique landmarks. Some parts of the island/organisation would have occurred naturally and been there forever. Other parts would be man-made and recent. The different parts would relate to each other – so roads would lead to particular destinations. Parts might be fenced off or protected. Some bits are beautiful and some useful but ugly. But they are all part of the island’s unique and individual aerial “map”.
Imagine the change you are seeking to implement was the equivalent of dropping a huge parachute that was big enough to cover the island from the sky.
Where the land was flat and uninhabited, the sections of the parachute landing there would cover the ground, settle quickly and almost instantly obscure what was there before.
The parts of the parachute that floated down towards hills or mountains, would have to adapt to the unique contours of the hill to find their settling point.
If the mega-parachute landed on a settlement and there was not a plan to adapt or move the people first, there is no doubt that they would find their own varied ways to get around that – either by finding a hole or an edge in the Nylon, or cutting through it and clearing the parachute off their part of the land completely. Either way damage would be done and panic would likely ensue.
Finally where the parachute came down towards a church steeple or a wind farm, the parachute would just rip, however solidly constructed it was. The steeple or turbine would proudly poke right through it.
It can be a useful image to think about when trying to change something in an organisation. We can assume that we can just land something and people will calmly and rationally adapt to it. But it’s never the case, particularly if they are not on board – It seems ridiculous to assume that people would happily live with a piece of Nylon over their heads! But actually why is any more ridiculous to assume that they would be happy to move offices and have an additional 20 minute commute or change a habit of a lifetime.
Thus it helps to think about the “map” of the organisation. Imagine you had a bird’s eye view and were looking at it from above. What are it’s own unique characteristics. Which are obvious – like the biggest mountains? And which are more subtle and unrecognisable because they are man-made and layered – but very important to someone. You are mapping out the different aspects to the organisation – such as the structure and the behaviours so that you can start to see what matters the most.
When you create a map, it can help you identify where are the bits of the organisation where the change will land with very few obstructions? Where will it land but need to adapt to the “contours” of the organisation but remain intact and still recognisable? And where because of the strength of feeling will people find a way to escape out from underneath it – either quietly or with aggression. And where will it simply rip on landing unless it is particularly well reinforced in that particular area – or patched-up quickly?!
I like the cultural map or web invented by Johnson and Scholes in the late 80’s because it does not just pay attention to the obvious things that we might look at when we are think about mapping out an organisation – such as the policies or the organisational structure. But it also reminds us to look for more subtle clues about where we might hit problems – What stories are proudly repeated in the organisation? What tangible and intangible symbols of power exist in the business? We can begin to think about whether the change is congruent with those symbols and stories. And if not, we can plan what to do about it.
Identifying what the stories, symbols and routines are that make the cultural map unique today, can help you understand what might be possible tomorrow.
One quick but really effective way to assess how well a cultural change programme might land is to draw 2 maps – One showing what the dominant aspects of the culture you have now and one showing what might be in the aspirational culture you want to create. When you compare the two it starts to become more obvious what the barriers might be. Will the people in your organisation see your “parachute” as essential to survival or providing the means to escape from some organisational practises that are no longer working? Or as a suffocating cover that destroys all that is important to them?
The cultural “web” that Johnson and Scholes used to map organisations contains 6 inter-related parts
The Stories and Myths that are told about past and current events.It is interesting to compare the stories that are told inside and outside of the company – do they match? Who are the heroes in the stories that are told and who are the villains? What stories are told about when people succeed or fail? How long have the Myths been in existence? How long does it take for a new story to take hold and what sort of stories capture the imagination of the people the best?
The visible Symbols that represent what the Company “stands for” This could be the obvious ones like the logo, but is also about the informality or the grand-ness of the offices, whether the dress code is formal or informal. Whether the car park has Director spaces right be the door.
The Power Structures that exist in the business. It may be that the power is held by one or two Executives, or that a whole department actually holds the most sway. How is power attained – is it earned or ascribed? Where are the pockets of real power and influence – who really influences decisions and direction regardless of role. Where does change usually emerge from? Who is socially successful and what characterises that informal power?
The Organisational Structures that exist in the business. Who reports where? What does that tell you about how different departments or different individuals are viewed? Which structural aspects illustrate whose contributions are most valued? It can help to look at meeting structures as part of this. Who attends which meetings and how is that related and reflected in the organisational structure.
The Control Systems – so the way that the organisation exerts control over itself and the people within it. How formal or informal are the financial and quality systems? How is performance rewarded and how is underperformance dealt with? What is expensed and what is not. How generous are the benefits and why? Are control systems followed religiously or “accidentally” ignored. If there is a difference between how different departments adhere to the control systems, does this inform what you know about the power structure?
The Rituals and Routines are the daily behaviours that you see that signal acceptable behaviour. What actions are taken that people perceive as “normal” which in another organisation might be interpreted differently? What behaviours are rewarded and punished – both formally and informally? What is supposed to happen in particular situations? What do managers pay attention to (and is this different to what they profess to pay attention to?!)
We hope that this provides you with a way to look at your organisation in a different way and provides you with some practical next steps that you can undertake to make change happen more successfully. For help, guidance or practical training to help get you there, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our websites at www.profitablyengaged.com or teabreaktraining.com