How To Create A Culture That Embraces Change

How To Create A Culture That Embraces Change
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Campbell Macpherson (main photo) is a sought-after speaker and international business adviser on leadership, strategy and change who splits his time between Australia and the UK. His latest book, The Power to Change (Kogan Page 2020) has been shortlisted for the 2021 Business Book Awards. In this guest spot, Macpherson provides expert tips on tackling the tricky topic of office culture…

‘Culture is everything,’ declared Louis Gerstner when he was the Chairman of IBM. He was half right.

‘A culture that embraces change is everything’ would have been more complete. For if we have learnt anything during this last crazy year, it is that an organisation’s ability to change is business-critical. Success is only possible if your people are ready, willing and able to change.

Because change isn’t about processes or systems or business models or balance sheets. It is about people. It is about culture. And culture starts at the top.

It begins with the realisation that the first step towards creating a culture that accepts uncertainty and embraces change is creating a leadership team that does the same thing. A leadership team of leaders who know they don’t have to have all the answers – and are OK with that. Leaders who are confident enough to admit when they don’t know. Leaders who acknowledge that life and business are both inherently uncertain – and accept this reality.

Leaders who know that leadership today is all about leading change. Leaders who understand that all change is personal, all change is emotional, and emotions are four times more powerful than logic when it comes to change. Leaders who know that leadership today is about helping their people to want to change.

Successful leaders today build cultures that encourage people to accept uncertainty as part of life, embrace change and look for the opportunities.

And here are 5 key things that you can do to build a change-ready culture in your business:

  1. Be clear about the why and the what, but flexible when it comes to how. Strategy should never be set in stone, especially during such uncertain times. But there is strength in flexibility – as long as your people are crystal clear about why your organisation exists, who it exists to serve, what makes it special and what gives you all the right to succeed. Then engage your people in how to deliver.
  2. Make sure all of your leaders can lead change. 88% of change initiatives and business strategies fail to deliver, according to a 2016 survey by Bain & Co. In my first book, The Change Catalyst, I list the top ten reasons why change has such a spectacularly poor success record – and every single one is to do with leadership. In my ‘Leading Change’ workshops and webinars, we explore why change fails and the essential ingredients for successful change. They all boil down to leadership.
  3. Make sure all of your leaders throughout the organisation ‘own’ the strategy – this means engaging with them all to enable them to air their concerns and explore implications of the new direction and approach. This is the only way to build a united and aligned multi-layered leadership team.
  4. Give your people the skills to embrace change. The ability to appreciate that change is constant. It is not a project or a one-off. It is a part of life. In my ‘Embracing Change’ webinars, we explore how the powerful emotions we experience when big change is done to us are completely normal – and they can be harnessed and turned to our advantage. That each of us erects our own unique barriers to change, which can be overcome. We can learn to detach from our negative thoughts, reframe the way we look at life’s challenges, confront our fears – and accept change. Every one of us can be our own change leader – if we acknowledge our emotional reactions without judgment and then ask the magic question: “So, what am I going to do about it?”
  5. Set your people up to succeed. Make sure your organisation’s policies, management processes, incentives, rules and communications are all designed to encourage informed risk-taking and innovation; enable people to try, fail and learn from the experience; and celebrate successful change.

The power to accept and embrace change is one of the most important gifts you can give your people – for success at work and in life. And the future success of your business depends upon the ability of your people to accept uncertainty, harness change and make it work – for everyone.

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Campbell Macpherson

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