How Does Organizational Culture Affect Change?

How does organizational culture affect change?

Culture is one among many factors that influence a company’s ability to change.

A few of these include:

  • Culture
  • Leadership
  • External circumstances, such as customer needs and desires

Among many other things.

When developing an organizational change project, change practitioners should examine all of these factors in detail.

Each factor will have a different weight, depending on the organization’s unique circumstances.

Let’s look at some of these factors in more detail.

Factors that Affect Organizational Change

From business processes to culture to finance, there are many things that can influence change projects … for better or for worse.

Change managers must review all of these before beginning a change project. 

Here are some of the most important:

  • Customer Needs – What do the customers actually want? If your products or services don’t meet their needs, for instance, it is time to evolve your product to meet those demands.
  • Competitor Pressure – If competitors are pushing forward, developing better products, and creating better value propositions, then it’s time to adapt.
  • Executive Leadership – Executive leadership can either spearhead change … or hold it back. When the time is right for change, it’s critical to obtain executive support early on. 
  • Budget – Budget is one of the biggest concerns for any business endeavor. It can influence change projects in general, as well as programs aimed at cultural change.
  • Tools and Technology – Technology can facilitate change, or even be the central focus of change. But it can also become a barrier to organizational change, especially when employees are reluctant or budgets are tight. 
  • Existing Business Processes – Inertia and clinging to the familiar can keep people locked into old processes for far too long. This, in turn, hurts a business’s adaptability and agility.
  • Culture – Culture also plays a pivotal role in any change project … people can either support change with enthusiasm, be apathetic, or actively resist change.

Though all of these factors play critical roles in any change project, culture remains a top focus for change managers.

How Does Organizational Culture Affect Change?

Some of the aforementioned factors that affect change are very black and white.

You either have the budget for change or you don’t.

Customers either need a new feature or they don’t.

When people become involved, though, the situation becomes more complex.

Employee support depends on:

  • What’s in it for them – that is, how they will benefit from a change
  • How much extra work is involved
  • How the end result will impact their jobs, their salaries, their long-term career prospects, and so forth
  • Their general attitudes towards change, new ideas, and new things

This last point is where culture comes in – because it can be viewed as the “central pillar” that strongly influences many of these other factors.

What Makes a “Good” Corporate Culture?

There is no such thing as a “good” corporate culture – any more than there is such a thing as a “good” flavor of ice cream.

It’s all relative.

One corporation may be competitive, driven, and fast-paced.

Another may be relaxed, social, and slow-paced.

However, today’s marketplace is continually changing. This means that corporations geared towards continual change will be more likely to survive and succeed in the coming years.

To see why, let’s set the stage by describing today’s economic climate:

  • Technology is causing massive, global disruption. New technological innovations, from the internet to the mobile phone, are fueling disruptive changes. A short time ago, both of these were barely conceivable – but today, businesses that aren’t using both are at a strong competitive disadvantage.
  • Innovative companies that can disrupt and transform are those most likely to succeed and dominate. Today’s top companies are all technology companies. Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook – in just a few short years, they have eclipsed the former global leaders. This seismic shift demonstrates the massive power behind technology and innovation.
  • In such a fast-paced environment, speed and adaptability rule. Speed is “the ultimate weapon” according to DocuSign chairman Keith Krach. Organizations that are the fastest at innovating, producing, and releasing into the marketplace are those that can overtake their obsolete competitors.

Now, as mentioned, there is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” corporate culture.

However, it’s pretty clear that we live in an economy driven by technology, innovation, and speed.

And it should also be pretty clear which cultural attributes will positively influence cultural change.

Redesigning Your Corporate Culture for Continuous Change

Given the context illustrated above, change managers would be well-advised to inculcate attributes such as:

  • Innovation – Creating a culture of innovation means inviting participation from everyone. And it means using the right systems, mechanisms, and tools to boost innovation.
  • Agility – Agile software development has given rise to agile change management, agile management, and other agile disciplines. Inculcate these systems into your work environment and the culture will gradually shift to reflect those changes.
  • Openness to Change – Prudence is wise in some circumstances. But risk averse attitudes can easily prevent you from money-making investments – the kind that can help your company stay competitive and successful.
  • Speed – Acclimate employees to speed, so they become more alert and ready for spur-of-the-moment changes. A culture ready to act, react, and deliver will help contribute to an organization that is able to deliver products and services more quickly.
  • Digital Literacy – Digital literacy is a must in today’s world. Companies should create a “digital culture” that encourages digital fluency. And, as with the other characteristics mentioned here, the best way to cultivate this attribute is by introducing systems that cultivate it.
  • Lifelong Learning – It is becoming widely recognized that lifelong learning will become a prerequisite for the workforce of the future. Enterprises that integrate employee training solutions into their business will create a workforce that is more productive, relevant, engaged, and open to change.

It is worth noting that these characteristics don’t necessarily conflict with other attributes of corporate culture.

A company can still be social, relaxed, extra-competitive, and so forth.

However, in today’s economy, change is continual. 

The attributes covered above will contribute to corporate cultures that support, enable, and fuel that change.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.