The culture of successful transformation

Much has been written about the need for the right culture to exist to allow the transformation of an organisation – the need for employees to be empowered, have an innovative mindset, to work collaboratively, to look externally and to be open to risk and failure.

However, changing culture can often be one of the biggest challenges, especially in organisations that are often so in need of transformation, where hierarchy, tradition and process have often been the mainstays to ‘the way it’s always been done’.

Those whose transformation programmes are flourishing are prepared to invest heavily (in time, top down commitment and quite frankly money) in shifting the cultural perspective to one that embraces change and has the momentum to drive it forward.

Unless there is a real desire to change and those commitments are in place, organisations are struggling to recruit (and retain) the right sort of entrepreneurial talent to drive significant transformation forward – and take others on the journey along with them, encouraging and in some cases demanding a seismic shift in behaviour.

Without that talent in place throughout the organisation, pushing change both up and down, it’s very hard to see any significant shift in culture.

Lack of talent was ranked as the number one blocker to transformation in our recent research (culture coming a close second). The message came across more strongly in the charity and traditional banking sector, who still aren’t seen as hotbeds of innovation, despite the prolific PR (for banks at least).

Interestingly, LinkedIn’s data backs this up. It shows a 32% drop-off in candidate interest in roles at traditional banks over the last five years compared to a 40% increase in roles in cryptocurrency, fintech and challenger banks in the same period.

The fact that 80% of the blockers and enablers in our research reference culture/people in some way, demonstrates how vital the right culture is to the people on the ground driving change.

It’s hard to categorise so many complex issues around developing the right culture to allow transformation to flourish – but we’ve pulled together some common themes based on our research:

Employee communication

It was recognised that there is a need not only to have vision in place – but the need for that vision to be communicated and embraced by those across the organisation.

And not just in a snappy statement on the wall in reception either. It needs to be a living and breathing embodiment of the vision of the business, constantly referred to by all employees and stitched into any new product or service, change in process or team structure.

Everyone in the organisation should be engaged in driving forward change with recognition from the senior leaders that transformation is led from all levels and corners of the organisation. Indeed it should be actively encouraged at every level if change is going to be embraced.

Attract the right people

Since mass adoption of the ‘the internet’ in the early 90s, there has been a constant issue with the industry being able to employ people with the right skills to deliver against the digital needs of their consumers and now more broadly, their users.

So, this is not a new message, but the fact that attracting the right talent was the number one blocker to transformation in our research was still a surprise. The stark reality is that the lack of digital skills is still real and is holding many businesses back.

More traditional organisations need to work hard to define (and live up to!) their employer/employee brand to ensure they can attract the right talent to move any transformation forward.

Engage the end user

Often the ‘people at the coal face’ are best placed to deliver the type of innovative improvement that adds value to the organisation and their consumers, IF they are given the right landscape to operate in, along with support and empowerment.

There are numerous benefits in engaging the ‘end user’ or customer when it comes to shaping any solution. Not only do you deliver a more effective product (unlike those MVP’s developed in isolation) they are much more likely to be adopted in the long run and to be successful.

Equally those end users should be encouraged to develop and run their own transformation projects. One of the benefits of flexible funding means that ad hoc developments can bubble up throughout the business and be taken forward.

Balance internal/external resource

Many organisations ‘buy in’ resource to support the transformation process. This can prove to be a successful catalyst to kickstart programmes – bringing experience of tried and tested methods, and often an ability to challenge the status quo in ways which can be difficult as an internal employee.

However, there needs to be a careful balance between internal and external resource if you are going to achieve long term sustainable transformation. Ensuring capability is built internally across the organisation and doesn’t remain in siloed pockets of external resource is key.

Clearly building a culture that embraces a sustained transformation is something that cannot be achieved overnight by a select few. It should be led from the very top and combine a multitude of incentives (both carrots and sticks) to ensure behaviours don’t continually fall back to the way things have always been done when things get difficult.

Ultimately a holistic approach that ensures people feel engaged in the process and empowered to make a difference will deliver the most long-term value.

This article first appeared in CEO today.

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