Organisational Culture Change 101

Version 2

    For this weeks blog I wanted to write about organisational culture.

    A recent study by PWC found that 67% of business leaders agree that their organization’s culture is critical to business success. I've been lucky enough to be in Cannes in France this week at the EMEA Google for Work Customer Advisory Council - to talk to the executives of some of our largest customers in EMEA about transformation. I asked them the same question about culture: 'do you think organisational culture is critical for success?' 100% of the customers in the room said culture is critical for success.

    Companies move to Google Apps for many reasons. Some because they are looking for cost savings and efficiency, some because they are looking for large scale business transformation, and some because they are looking to drive organisational culture change. Often-times organisations are looking for a combination of all three of these.


    Culture is commonly defined as the behaviours, attitudes and values that are held by an organisation. It includes goals, stories, power structure, diversity and control systems. To give yourself an insight into the culture within your organisation - ask yourself the following questions:

    • Where does innovation come from? Is innovation considered important?
    • How are decisions made? Are they consensus or leader driven? Is decision making quick or slow?
    • What is the typical communications style within the organisation? Is information withheld or shared? Is the tone polite and respectful? Or otherwise?
    • Does organising occur centrally? Or is it decentralised?
    • Is the organisation short or long term focused?
    • How is appraising and rewarding done? What behaviours are rewarded? Teamwork and collaboration or people who are individual heros?
    • What are relationships like within the organisation? What are relationships like between bosses and subordinates? Peer to peer? Interdepartmental?

    Your responses to the above will give insight into aspects of the culture that may need changing in order for the organisation to gain or maintain competitive advantage. For an organisation to achieve it’s goals it needs to have a culture that is aligned to and supportive of those goals.

    So what does a good culture look like?

    Here are some attributes that are commonly considered to make up a strong and positive organisational culture

    • Employee pride and enthusiasm for the organisation and the work they perform
    • Equal opportunity for each employee to realize their full potential within the company
    • Open and transparent communication with all employees
    • Leaders who have a strong sense of direction and purpose
    • An ability to compete in industry innovation
    • Lower than average turnover rates
    • Investment in employee learning and development
    • Acceptance and appreciation of diversity
    • Respect for each employee’s contribution to the company

    The need for organisational culture change is usually triggered by a threat to survival where the risks of not changing might include job loses, failure in the marketplace, lack of innovation, loss of revenue or an inability to attract new talent.

    Culture change, as with other large scale transformation projects will likely take a number of years and will require deliberate and sustained efforts over time by all the leaders of the organisation.

    Here are my top tips for embarking on a culture change program within your organisation:

    1. Formulate a clear strategic vision. Culture change needs to start with a clear vision of the firm's new strategy and of the shared values and behaviours (the culture) needed to make it work. This provides the purpose and direction for the cultural change. Leaders must be deliberate about defining the values and behaviours that are expected of all employees.
    2. Display top management commitment: cultural change must be managed from the top of the organisation. Senior executives and administrators have to be completely committed to the new values and need to create constant pressure for change. They must have the staying power to see the change through.
    3. Model culture change at the highest levels. Senior executives must communicate the new culture through their own actions. Their behaviour needs to symbolise the kinds of values and behaviours being sought.
    4. Modify the organisational structure to support the change. Culture change requires support from the organisational structure, meaning that HR, IT systems and management styles must all support the new culture. For example if you are looking to develop a culture of teamwork and collaboration, but employees are still rewarded and promoted by being individual hero’s rather than team players - teamwork and collaboration will never become the norm. People’s behaviours in the workplace are driven by rewards, so consider how rewards and recognition can be set up to encourage the desired behaviours.
    5. Hire and fire according to cultural fit. One of the most effective ways of changing culture is to change organisational membership to fit with desired culture. People are most open to organisational influences during the early stages of joining the organisation. This is something that Google is very vigilant about, one of the key attributes that employees are hired for is their ‘Googleyness’ which refers to their cultural fit within the organisation.

    Culture change will take deliberate effort over time by everyone within the organisation - especially leaders. But getting culture right is really important for the long term success of an organisation.

    I'd be really interested to hear from you each on the following:

    - How important do YOU think culture is within your organisation? Does your culture support innovation, openness, transparency, and collaboration?

    - Do you think there is a link between culture and technology?

    - Do you feel that culture is something that you can personally influence? If not you - which part of the business is responsible for culture?

    - Is there anything that you think Google could help with regarding your organisational culture?

    Please use this discussion forum to share your responses to the above.

    Any other thoughts, feedback, questions or ideas on the topic are, as always, very welcome!