How to navigate the challenge of organisational and cultural change

insight featured image
Grant Thornton recently hosted an organisational change summit in Wellington which included a robust panel discussion about organisational and cultural change. I had the pleasure of taking a deep dive into the challenges and opportunities organisations can experience in today’s market with Janelle Riki-Waaka, Vanisa Dhiru and Jo Cribb. Read on to discover the key insights that emerged from the discussion.

Today, the one constant we see and experience in our personal lives and business environments is rapid and perpetual change.

You may find your business or organisation needs to look seriously at an organisational shift because:

  • Aotearoa is experiencing significant economic challenges 
  • your organisation is growing to a point where you need to reset the business’s priorities, vision, and purpose
  • parts of the business are underperforming or failing to deliver on certain priorities, resulting in lower efficiencies.

The key to sustainable and future growth is a unified organisation operating within a strong people-centred and cultural context, with visible leaders leading the charge. This means leaders are transparent and consistent in their messaging, and are seen by their people throughout the change journey.  

For some, this may feel like a foreign concept, or you just haven’t experienced change like this before.  Well, you’re not alone - there are so many people who will feel the same way. While change is so constant, it’s seldom delivered well because:

  • people-centred change relies on soft skills like empathy for people, emotional intelligence and leading through capturing the hearts and minds of your people.   However, change initiatives often become transactional because it’s much easier to focus on the technical aspects and outputs of change, rather than look deeper at the behaviours and beliefs that may be holding us back.  While human-skills are a natural leadership quality for some, it doesn’t come naturally for all people who have a leadership title. The good news is these skills can be learned, to support your understanding of the importance of walking your talk.
  • leadership often isn’t visible to an organisation’s people throughout the change journey -  it’s easier to default to, “not enough time, too much going on”.  My belief is that time management is a choice, and a leader needs to make that investment of time to be authentic and for the change to be purposeful.

Organisational Change live scribe

Insights captured by a live scribe at the event (click to enlarge)


Bring your people along for the journey with effective communication

We choose places to work in the same way we choose restaurants, houses, and holidays – places that really talk to us and give us a sense of belonging, so when change happens within a business, this can spark a sense of grief.

People’s sense of purpose and belonging is lost when they’re told about change, or it’s ineffectively communicated. Constant communication is an important tool when implementing change – telling people how the process will move and shape the organisation. Lack of effective and consistent communication often leaves people feeling: 

  • what they’ll gain is far less than what they’ll lose
  • the “bright future” being proposed is better than the work they’ve done before, and that the past is “bad”, and the future state is better
  • there is no point in giving my role 100% if my work is not valued.

Techniques to support leaders and managers to communicate to their people through the change journey can be guided by three lines of sight:

Hindsight for leaders of change: This involves acknowledging the past, innovating from experience and growing your organisation with your people

Foresight for managers of change: For those charged with the task of overseeing the change process, it’s mission-critical to lead with transparency, make pivots with courage and be open to learning through listening to all of your stakeholders

Oversight for deliverers of change: This means having the right people in place to manage the outputs, deliver the work and implementing the change.

Change happens at the speed of trust

Building trust throughout your organisation during any change process is an absolute must and can be achieved through genuine engagement and inclusion. Once trust is established, people are more likely to support and champion change. This will ultimately lead to engaged and productive team members.  Water the flowers and the seeds of change. These are the people who will bring about change.  Know who your rocks are, these are the people who may not ever be ready to embrace change.  Make sure you have a realistic plan for those people, even if that means they eventually leave your organisation.

People centred change: Diversity vs a one size fits all approach

Our Māori, Pacific and Asian populations are growing, and will represent a large portion of the talent hiring pool in the not-so-distant future. Our diverse cultures and backgrounds can add immense value to your business and your market.

Make sure you look at change through a diverse lens. Examine the diversity within your organisation – or lack of it. Consider who you have designing change and ask, “are we representing everyone?”  Will the changes we are considering cater to our growing diversity as a nation?

If you don’t have diverse voices at the table designing change, you’ll end up delivering a one size fits all process for the more dominant group or point of view within your organisation; this can cause many bumps in the road, and is not likely to be sustainable, due to lack of buy-in of the narrative.

Get the right people at the change design and decision-making table, give them a voice – empower everyone to contribute to the journey.

So, what could all of this look like in your organisation?

To many, change is simply a restructure – shuffling the deck chairs to solve perceived challenges by certain groups in a business. However, this approach can create more problems than it solves and become unnecessarily expensive – think consulting costs and lawyers’ fees.

To successfully implement a people-centric, well communicated change process in your business you can bring your people along for the journey by asking them what type of organisation they want to work in, and what type of organisation they currently work in. The answers can give you a road map to a future state that’s fit for purpose for everyone. Instead of a restructure, you may just need to look at your leadership framework, behaviours, purpose or who sits around the decision-making table.

Use everyone’s insights to set some goals for your business, for example, big decisions can’t be made if there isn’t cultural or gender equity in the room, or KPIs and standards to measure leaders’ behaviour against your organisation’s culture and values – do they walk the talk?

Change isn’t a distinct period of time, but a constant we all live with. Embed it in your organisation as a way of working. Invest in an experienced inhouse culture and change expert so this work isn’t thrown on top of your HR team’s responsibilities. Having a dedicated resource can help you spot opportunities and track progress against your goals.

Your organisation will realise the benefits from a transparent change journey when the people are bought into the journey right from the outset.  That is the best place to ensure you will achieve a level of acceptance and buy-in.  They are the people the organisation will depend on to deliver and implement the change and the organisation’s ability to achieve their return on this important investment.