Changing the culture in your business

Every organization has a distinct culture. Sometimes the culture is fragmented and difficult to understand, but most organizational cultures are very strong. In these organizations, you can sense a great deal about the culture by just walking into the building and observing how you are greeted by others and how employees complete their work.

Organizational culture influences and affects many aspects of our personal and professional life. It affects what decisions are made, who gets promoted, how people dress and how the work force behaves. Culture binds people into a cohesive group. In a healthy organization, that group is committed to the expectations and practices of the organization. However, change can be perceived as a threat.

Change can also be a sign of healthy business growth. Many other factors, both internal and external, bring about change. Fluctuations in the market, the economy, the labor force, technology, legislation, competition and certainly globalization are just a few of the external factors that can influence a business. Internal factors include finances, products, production layout, leadership, employee grievances, turnover and union activity. Change is often necessary to ensure business survival.

One thing is constant: People are resistant to change. We are all creatures of habit and will continue doing the things we are doing unless those habits are reformed in some manner. Many years ago, I read my first email. Now, thousands of emails later, this has become the first thing I do when starting my work day. Changes in technology forced me to learn how to use a computer to maintain a professional position.

Organizations can often be more resistant to change than an individual. Organizations are made up of several individuals, each having his/her own resistance, therefore providing collective resistance. Change also requires utilization of limited resources. Costs can be prohibitive. The politics of an organization and threats to an individual’s power or influence can often deter necessary change as well.

Therefore, the first step in implementing change is to get employees to buy into the need for change and the changes themselves. It is very important that all employees be informed about the issue bringing on the need for change, the possible outcomes and the plan for solution. They must also understand their own roles in the process. This will help break down barriers to implementing the change. Once the changes have been implemented, over time they will become the new habits that bring desirable results, much like checking my email first thing each morning.

It should not be assumed that all changes in an organization are brought about because the group is not healthy. Many recent approaches to quality management call for continuous improvement, a concept that implies constant change. Other positive factors include the necessity for change due to mergers or buyouts or other changes in ownership or leadership.

There is a relatively new and innovative process called appreciative inquiry (AI), which addresses change by using the organization’s employees, customers and vendors to design the future of the organization. According to Appreciative Inquiry: An Innovative Process for Organizational Change, Employee Relations Today, “Appreciative inquiry engages the entire organization in discovering the best of what has been and dreaming about the best of what might be.”

Forming transition teams of employees from all aspects of the business can also help to facilitate change and encourage employee involvement and buy-in. Some organizations gather input from surveys, but if that is the preferred method, it is imperative that the results are shared and discussed. Not doing so will destroy employee morale and trust. When seeking input, make sure responses are communicated. Be honest in providing feedback to employees. Address their concerns, and if the issues can’t be resolved within the resources and constraints of the organization, simply explain the reasons.

Organizations must be prepared to change constantly to respond effectively to ever-changing demands. Managers must be able to recognize the need for change and identify and manage sources of resistance. The key to successful organizational change is to involve employees in each step of the process.

– Willis Mushrush, business development and procurement specialist MO SBTDC and MO PTAC