Culture Evolution – Maintaining momentum during challenging times

perspectives Mar 28, 2018

In the previous 2 articles, we considered under what circumstances to accelerate culture transformation and when it is necessary to slow down in order to speed up. In this article, we explore under what circumstances it is necessary to hold ground and embed organisational learning, in order to maintain the momentum for culture evolution.

There is a moment in space and time that lies between resistance and rapid acceleration. Signs appear of organisational appetite for evolution, yet at times, they are fleeting and fragile. Push too hard, and you may create resistance, take the foot off the accelerator and there may not be sufficient energy to move forward.

Signs to maintain and build momentum

Culture is a complex phenomenon, which means that culture work requires ongoing testing, learning, refining and retesting. Through testing, piloting and prototyping, clues emerge about how which next steps might be most useful for the organisation. The below clues suggest that an organisation is ready to maintain and build towards momentum:

  1. The pain or frustration of not changing is greater than the pain of going through transformation. There is a widespread appetite for change though not yet a complete commitment or clarity of the way forward.
  2. New ways of working are being well received in pockets of the organisation and are slow to be taken up in others.
  3. Pockets of increased responsibility and groups of passionate advocates begin to emerge.
  4. There is genuine support from key influencers and stakeholders including all senior leaders
  5. When bad things happen, people resist defaulting to old ways, and some pockets of the organisational lean into the challenge more effectively than in the past
  6. Deep awareness (beyond cognitive) and ownership of the need for genuine transformation is growing throughout the organisation

Ways to maintain and build momentum

If the above indicators are present in your organisation, there are a number of things that can help the organisation to progress:

  1. Maintaining and embedding the new cultural experience.
    • Build new ways of working that enable cultural evolution into the rhythms of the business, so that the emerging culture becomes part of the organisation’s “new normal”
    • Invest in measurement, observation and celebration. These all deepen awareness of the culture you are endeavouring to create
    • Find ways to make new ways easy and old ways difficult for people in the organisation. This could range from changes in structure, systems and processes, to how people are recognised and what is celebrated.

  2. Identify and amplify the enablers
    • Test where pockets may be ready for acceleration; run a few pilots and observe how the organisation responds
    • Identify the parts of the existing culture that people are proud of, and that will be essential to embrace and evolve through the the culture transformation. There is likely to be a significant amount of engagement in and commitment to these pride points. Enabling people to see how the transformation will help to either sustain or enhance these pride points can rally energy and attention towards the transformation.
  3. Identify the inhibitors and work through strategies to transform or overcome them
    • Support the parts of the organisation that have struggled to come on the journey. What are the historical and present challenges that are preventing them from moving? What would have to happen in the wider systems to enable these parts to move?
    • Deepen cohesion across the organisational system; work either vertically (further up or further down the organisation) or horizontally (across teams and divisions)

Key questions to support maintaining and building momentum:

  • What are people really passionate about in the organisation that is critical to maintain and evolve?
  • What are the easy-to-fix frustrations that would have widespread positive benefits when they are transformed, and can be communicated as being symbols of the emerging culture?
  • What are the quick and easy initiatives that can help deliver the business strategy and build momentum for cultural transformation?
  • Who are the early adopters of the new ways of working? What can you learn from these people about how to evolve the culture, and how might they be able to champion or assist the wider organisation?
  • What can be done to increase people’s awareness of the progress that has been made? What are the most effective ways of communicating these that will cut through the day-to-day stream of communication?
  • What particular organisation systems, structures, reporting cycles could include initiatives that explicitly support evolution of the culture?
  • What critical behaviours and mindsets from the aspirational culture would the leaders and influencers be role modelling and encouraging?

A central capability of highly effective culture leaders and practitioners is to be able to assess the organisation system and determine where and how to focus attention, whether this be slowing down, accelerating or maintaining and building momentum.

We wish you all the best in assessing the needs for your organisation’s cultural evolution.

If any of this article resonates with you and you can observe some of these challenges in your organisation, then you may be interested in the Adaptive Cultures community. The community of practitioners are actively exploring many of these themes within their sphere of organisations, and actively developing ways and means to respond and adapt.

Adaptive Cultures are holding the first European Practitioner Accreditation in August 2018. You can find out more here: Accreditation

Read part one & two of this blog series here:

Accelerating Your Organisation’s Cultural Evolution

Cultural Evolution – When slowing down is the fastest way forward

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