Organisational Truths and Culture Change

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A few years ago, I was asked to do some work for a logistics business as part of a transformation programme. I was fascinated by some of the widely held cultural beliefs and the way that shaped how people behaved across their operation.


One example that really stuck with me was the reporting of health and safety incidents and near misses. The cultural belief was that the information reported was going to be used to shame, admonish and punish both managers and teams for not doing a good enough job. As a result of that, the level of reporting was low, and the senior leadership worked under the assumption that there were strong standards of health and safety being upheld by their people.


Contrast that with a healthcare organisation I worked with, and a strong cultural belief that reporting incidents and near misses were going to be used to improve standards and working practices for staff and patients. Levels of reporting were high, and senior team role-modelled and took an active interest in the promotion of high standards of safe practice.


These are examples of the Organisational Truths that drive behaviours, interactions, ways of doing things – the current culture.


View from the Top

Whenever I’m employed by an organisation to work with them on their culture it is usually by a CEO, or a Director of HR or OD. Leaders at this level often see things through a particular lens, and usually have a very clear and fully formed view of the world. None, some or all of it might be valid, but accepting the view from that perspective misses a huge opportunity.

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But unless you hear from their teams, middle and frontline managers and from colleagues across the organisation, experience tells me you rarely got a complete or accurate picture; they often see things quite differently.

Then look at who else is helpful - speak to partner organisations and customers - and you begin to get much closer to the Organisational Truths that form a reliable basis for deciding on what happens next.


Foundations for Successfully Changing Culture

The most successful programmes of cultural change I’ve been involved in have begun with a deep, structured and objective view of the organisational culture now, through the eyes and experiences of the people who live and breathe it, both internally and externally.


Lifting up the rocks that may otherwise be left untouched – either consciously because of suspicion or fear about what lurks underneath, or unconsciously because what’s under there isn’t of concern or interest.


This is how we identify the way things really are, paint a full and accurate picture of the world, and establish consistent Organisational Truths that form the foundations for cultural change.


The final important thing to consider is that by simply engaging people in a meaningful conversation about culture in the first place, and listening to what they have to say, chances are you've already started to change things.