Why Cultural Change is a Challenge for Organisations Today

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Organisational culture is defined as a complex pattern of relationships between members of an organisation and its stakeholders e.g. customers, suppliers, regulators, society and the environment.

Is your organisation changing at least as fast as its environment? If not, you are going backwards. If you hope to both respond to market change and shape it, then continually realigning your strategy, culture and leadership is essential for business survival, success and growth. The biggest challenge facing most businesses now is transformational change in the context of the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world, especially with digital technologies reshaping business models and patterns of working across the world. We know that a large proportion of mergers and acquisitions fail to achieve their intended goals and that organisation culture is the most significant obstacle.

A few reasons for the lack of success in implementing change in organisational culture are:

  • Difficult to observe your own culture when you are working in it.
  • The culture of an organisation is embedded in the entire organisational system. Each little change affects every layer of that system.
  • An organisation’s identity is based on its culture, which is deeply linked to its history and development. So in short, an organisation’s culture evolves over time.
  • An organisation’s culture reflects its deepest values and beliefs, which is deeply imbibed in the system. It also poses as a challenge for organisational change.
  • Planning and anticipating change is a time consuming task for managers and others engaged in the activity.


A New Mindset for Changing Culture

When employees or managers in organisations drive organisational change by replacing the industrial age mental model and start to develop a different mindset with respect to organisations, culture and change, they immediately create more options about how to respond. For leaders, it is a significant shift from trying to “make” change happen to “enabling” change or “creating the right conditions” for change to flourish. For this, leaders need to continually notice the emerging patterns of interaction and experiment with how best to influence them. They need to stay curious and open to how else they might disrupt the patterns to generate change. Peter Drucker once famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

Ways through which culture change can be enabled in the organisation

  • A manager should start with changes in himself and his leadership team by modifying mindsets and behaviour. If the leadership team’s pattern of behaviour resists change, then it would be difficult to see others change. The manager has to be open about his own challenges, and ensure this is a real priority for the whole team, not just another thing on the to-do list.
  • Building positive vibes is essential to enable cultural change.
  • Be clear about the business objectives, the future vision and the opportunities and risks in the market.
  • Learn quickly and adapt rapidly to the changes in its environment.
  • Look at the history of the business to understand where it was and where it has reached in the entire journey.

In summation, the culture of an organisation creates its own unique, complex character. As such, it is as difficult to change in its entirety as the whole personality of a human being or that of a nation. Changing culture is a large-scale undertaking, and eventually all of the organisational tools for changing minds will need to be put in play.

“Changing culture is a bit like changing the course of a large ship”. Therefore, it requires great investment of effort and the ability to channelize it in the right direction, while being mindful of the obstacles that comes in the way.

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