Organizational change “Where to Start” ?

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The majority of my interactions with clients lately have been about organizational change. It is becoming more of an executive level conversation as leaders are realizing the importance of paying attention to the people dynamics and understanding the consequences when they don’t. “Where to start?” is a question I’m commonly asked.

A lot of organizations start culture change by changing the managers or bringing on new staff and others start through reorganizing, but is that where the process of culture change should start? Single-fix changes, such as the introduction of teams, or knowledge management or Lean, or some new process, may appear to make progress for a while, but eventually the interlocking elements of the organizational culture take over and the change is inevitably drawn back into the existing organizational culture. Organization culture is a reinforcing system where a set of goals, cannot be accomplished except through a compatible set of roles, processes, values, attitudes, communication practices and assumptions. Hence, changing of the elements of organizational culture without the rest of the elements compatibly fitting generates rejection.

Culture change is one of the most challenging tasks for management, and requires interaction of all parts of the organization. Change attempts often fail because of the assumptions made from the entire organization. The start of organizational change comes from a clear vision for the organization from management, but a clear vision can’t stop within management’s circle on the contrary a clear vision means that the entire organization needs to be inspired by the same vision. Inspiring your entire organization to create a culture change occurs when the organization is committed to a purpose clearly outlined in their vision, as purpose allows individuals to move forward through fear of change.

However the order in which management deploys cultural change has a critical impact on the likelihood of success. Inspiration to change the minds of those within the organization is the most fruitful strategy; inspiration can be implemented in the following manner:

1-    Vision

2-    Storytelling

3-    Conversations

4-    Persuasion

5-    Role Modeling

6-    Strategic Planning

7-    Decision Making

8-    Learning


Solidifying the change conducted through inspiration requires management tools such as role definitions, measurement and control systems. Beginning with a vision or story, but failing to put management tools that will cement the behavioral changes leads to failure in change. A lot of organizations believe what will allow organizational change is intimidation tools of correction and punishments, but the matter of fact  is that they are used as a last resort when all else fails. These lessons are evident in successive efforts to change the organizational culture. We have recommended some clear steps to help in organizational change:

  • Don’t start by reorganizing. First clarify the vision and put in place the management roles and systems that will reinforce the vision.
  • Don’t parachute in a new team of top managers. Work with the existing managers and draw on people who share your vision.
  • Generate a clear vision of where you want the organization to go and broadcast that vision rapidly and forcefully with leadership storytelling.
  • Identify the core stakeholders of the new vision and drive the organization to be continuously and systematically responsive to those stakeholders.
  • Define the role of managers as enablers of self-organizing teams and draw on the full capabilities of the talented staff.
  • Develop and put in place new systems and processes that support and reinforce this vision of the future, drawing on the practices of dynamic linking.
  • Introduce and consistently reinforce the values of transparency and continuous improvement.
  • Communicate horizontally in conversations and stories, not through top-down commands.


Have you ever been involved in leading an organizational change effort? What was the primary focus? What was the result? Looking back, what do you think you should have done differently?

How might you plan a change effort to take culture into account? What would you do to be credible when you asked others to change their behavior?

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