Monday, January 25, 2010

Change, Change Change....Change is Brewing!

Since the New Year began, we have visited several of our clients. The one thing they all have in common is a MAJOR change:
1) One company is dramatically changing their strategy
2) Another company is going through a transformation, executing strategy that necessitates a change in culture, systems, and structure.
3) Another company is going through a top leadership change.
4) Another company is executing on an existing growth strategy.
5) Another company is creating a growth strategy for their highly niched business

WOW, and all of that is taking place in an environment that has changed and continues to change on a daily basis.

I was thinking about this because I seem to get the same few questions from staff at these companies:
1) How long does change take?
2) How can we change our culture to fit the new direction of the company?

Good questions and if I had the answers to those questions, I think I would be writing this on a very beautiful warm island.

Seriously, here are my thoughts:

Change as mentioned in the examples above do not happen overnight. Leadership want big changes to happen yesterday and employees want small changes to happen incrementally. The question is how do we get to some kind of middle ground? Leadership must paint a very compelling reason for the changes and do that in a motivational, inspirational way. Most of the changes discussed above are about surviving in the new normal. If that is the case, then say it but talk about your company's strengths and how you all will be better post changes. Employees need to know why the change is happening and what the future holds. Keeping employees abreast of wins/losses along the way will satisfy their need to "know where we are headed."

How to change culture...I believe it has to be deliberate and yes, managed. I know that is a weird combination, managing culture, but it is no different than managing your people. Especially if you are going from a culture that is at one extreme, like an entitlement based culture to one that is performance based. That takes a radical change in thought, behavior and philosophy. Those things have to be planned and managed and yes, even measured along the way.

I happen to believe that with most changes, like the ones listed above you can't look at strategy without looking at your culture. They are connected, they are dependent, they have a causal relationship, they are hard to measure, they are sometimes hard to understand. But they are critical to success...think of Zappo's, think of Chick-fil-A, Nordstrom's, Ritz Carlton, their leadership really understand that relationship.

What are your thoughts on change and how long they take? What about how to change a culture, what is your experience, should it be managed or left to chance? Does your strategy and culture have a positive relationship?


Liz Fitzgerald said...

Given the current environment and economics it seems that the rate of change is getting even faster. I would add to your list of primary employee questions, "How will leadership change to model the new culture/behaviors or support the new direction?" Often, I find leaders looking to the staff to make changes and forgetting the critical success factor of LEADING change by communication and modeling the desired changes. The leaders that do this right are the most successful.

Unknown said...

Hi LIz:

Thanks for your comments I agree change is much faster than pre-great recession. I love your question about LEADING change. I would say that question does belong in my list. Leading change by modeling and communication is critically important. Just as culture and strategy go together, the 5 key components in our mind are leadership, strategy, culture, employees, and at teh center is the customer all have to be aligned with mission to impact business results. Thanks for reading! I appreciate it.