Programme managing culture change – case study

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Context

A North American software and services company entered the UK by acquiring the market-leader in a sector familiar to them in other territories.

Problem

It was apparent that the culture of the acquiring company was very different to that of the acquisition. The acquisition had been starved of resources for many years and investments had not been made in the assets of the company – the people, the products and services and the physical assets. The culture of the acquisition had been forged in this environment of famine, and had previously been dominated by a somewhat dictatorial leader. The culture had also been impacted by serious dissatisfaction amongst the customer base. The acquiring company identified that major transformation was needed. One aspect of the transformation created a need to programme manage a predictable culture change in as short a time as possible. The management team was somewhat divided, and did not appear to represent the views of all of the employees.

Solution

Within the overall programme of activities designed to transform the capabilities of the acquisition, a major work-stream was developed to address the change of culture.

A change organisation was created to manage the culture transformation programme, enabling ownership and accountability to be clear and transparent, and shared across a range of stakeholders, not just the management team. Several landmark events were planned and delivered, involving all the change organisation, with the aim of introducing a High Performance Culture. The first event established the reasons for changing the culture. That a change was needed was universally agreed; to what was less unanimous. The first event concentrated on the communications messages and mechanisms that would be necessary to engage the whole of the organisation, and the external stakeholders, in the culture change programme. It was acknowledged that the initial communications would not outline what the desired culture was to be, and would therefore potentially create unease. However, it was felt beneficial to get out the message that the new owners were committed to a change of culture, and wanted to involve a wide range of people in defining what the change would mean. This early engagement was fundamental because it clearly signalled a change to the approach of the previous management.

Prior to the second event, research was undertaken to identify organisations that had previously introduced and established High Performance Cultures. Several case studies were circulated to the change organisation and a workshop was arranged to decide how to define a “High Performance Culture” for the company. The workshop was held with emphasis on all participants being equals and all having a voice. It was emphasised that disagreement was acceptable, but criticism was not. The elements that were to make up the High Performance Culture were identified and gradually agreed. Over twenty elements were agreed as the component parts of a High Performance Culture, including a Performance Management System, Succession Planning and Career Progression processes, a process for selecting appropriate people when recruiting, as well as the company having aligned strategy and goals. The group determined that having the right people, with the right attitude was crucial, and decided that having the right culture was of paramount importance.

All of the elements of the High Performance Culture were allocated a sponsor and a small project team to review existing arrangements in the area and to draw up plans for improvement. These projects were then managed and reviewed using standard project management techniques including a project review board. The subject of Culture was discussed in a separate workshop with all the participants attending.

The workshop on culture was run in the same manner as the previous workshop, with emphasis on equality of participation and an absence of criticism. Prior to the workshop, attendees canvassed views about the desired culture from all parts of the company. In the workshop, all participants used single words or very short phrases, such as “respect” and “passion” and “integrity” and the like to describe the values they thought appropriate in the new culture they were creating. For each word or short phrase, the team discussed and agreed what the word meant to them. The format was for people to agree what the word would mean in terms of what the people in the company would see, would hear, and would feel in a future when the organisation was living that value. This was broadened to include other stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, competitors and the parent company. For each value, the team also discussed and agreed what stakeholders would not hear, see or feel. Five values (“what we expect of each other”) were agreed and for each one, three or four bullet points were added (“what this means for us”) for each of “we will” and “we won’t.” These became known as the WWWW statements (We Will, We Won’t) and the 5 values (Passion, Respect, Integrity, Dedication and Excellence) formed the acronym P.R.I.D.E.

The WWWW statements were unveiled and explained at a meeting involving everybody in the company. They were also produced as posters and prominently and widely displayed in all company locations, along with new Vision and Mission statements that had been produced in parallel using similar processes. The WWWW statements were also integrated into key processes in the company by adding them to appraisal forms and recruitment advertisements and the like.

Results

  1.  Employee satisfaction Feedback in the Employee Opinion Survey showed a very positive reaction to the new culture across all areas of the organisation.
  2. Customer satisfaction also improved as customers noticed a change in their experiences when interacting with the organisation.
  3. Product and Service quality improved as formal improvement projects were initiated and delivered across the organisation.
  4. Recruitment, in a traditionally difficult geographic area, was felt to have become somewhat easier, attracting high-quality candidates with scarce skills.
  5. The Product Introduction lifecycle was reduced and the number of software bugs was reduced

Takeaways

  •  Consider communicating a change quickly, rather than waiting for it to be completely defined. A “direction of travel” is better than inertia and the status quo.
  • Establish an environment where all participants consider themselves equals and able to contribute their views without fear of criticism. Discussing values evokes strong feelings.
  • Take the opportunity to establish the values and norms that the organisation aspires to and to identify what would not be acceptable. Help people to identify what they are moving towards, and what they are moving away from. Use appropriate words and forms of communication that will connect with all the people, whether as individuals they focus on the visual, the auditory, or the felt.
  • Understand that changing a culture affects all people individually and very personally.
  • Establish an organisation to manage the programmes, with clear “roles of change” and sufficient education, support and coaching. Make sure there is sufficient capability within the organisation to support the operational and the transformational activities concurrently.

See also www.dancewiththeelephants.com

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