Culture is an integral force in an organisation's operation. Despite the far reaching influences of culture it is often a force which is overlooked or underestimated. It is a phenomenon that is distilled down through our countries, societies, communities and even families, culminating in interwoven perceptions reflected at an organisational level. Each minute inspires an interlocking set of goals, roles, processes, values, communications practices, attitudes and assumptions, which creates an organisation's culture. A sound understanding of culture is key; the more we understand the more effective we can be at implementing change.
Why Does Culture Play a Big Part?
Too often is it the case that a campaign for change is delivered from the top down leaving the task of implementing these changes successfully to those in the operational levels. This is an important example of underestimating the human factor. People are not machines that can simply be programmed in a new way and left to run without complication or resistance.
As employees the ‘routine’ we have developed within our working careers ensures that we are able to complete our tasks and fulfil our roles. Influenced by culture and training our ‘routine’ allows us to master our environment; leaving us feeling positive about our overall position within the organisation. Any organisational change that impacts or conflicts with this ‘routine’ is often received negatively.
Employees that face changes within the workplace often experience a psychological sensation called cognitive dissonance: ‘the uncomfortable feeling of discrepancy in what you currently believe to be true and newly received information’. Understanding how humans behave lies at the very heart of change management. And with this in mind the secret to delivering effective change management is to realise that with respect to all individuals and groups there are two forces in play: the force of change and the force of resistance. Each constantly pushing and pulling at the other to maintain a dynamic equilibrium.
By being culturally aware change managers are able to customise their approach to change management; minimising the force of resistance through alignment and positioning with culturally specific influencers.
Identifying the Cultural Dimensions that have the Largest Impact on Change Management
Cultural dimensions are characteristic spectrums that exist within in a culture. Not designed to accurately describe the behaviour of every individual within their respective culture but rather serve the purpose of providing insight and or a description of a culture’s expectations and beliefs.
In the 2016 Prosci report there were 6 cultural dimensions identified as having the largest impact on change management:
- Individualism versus collectivism
- Emotional expressiveness
- Power distance
- Performance orientation
- Uncertainty avoidance
By mapping these cultural dimensions and how they manifest themselves into behaviours and expectations; directors of change management are able to highlight potential forces of resistance within the workforce and how this will impact on the introduction of change.
The nature of an organisations culture is typically reflective of that of its host country – or in the case of global organisations a balance between the cultures of the host country and the country of origin. In addition to this, organisations today are comprised of multinational workforces each with their own personal cultures influencing their perceptions and interactions with the overall organisational culture.
It would be impossible to identify and anticipate the interplay of every singular cultural influences of every single employee and how each will be impacted by organisational change. But it is possible to take into consideration the characteristics of the predominant cultures within the organisation and deliver change in a way which anticipates and minimises resistance on these dimensions while still being mindful for the potential of unforeseen resistance.
Through the Multicultural Looking Glass
Leaving behind or ignoring our own cultural backgrounds is impossible but without our knowing, it can influence they ways in which we interact and work with other cultures. When delivering successful change management, it is important we understand how our own cultures present on the spectrum and how this will influence the ways in which we introduce change.
Taking Culture into Consideration
Finding the most culturally relevant approach to introducing a change management process, will ensure that you have a successful interaction with your audiences. Changes that can be positioned to work with a culture – be that personal or organisational – will have the least impact on an employee’s routine and therefore their perception of their position within the organisation as a whole. When we can understand culture in a meaningful tangible way we are able to harness these forces to better change our work, our results and the experiences of all those around us.
To learn more about 6 powerful themes which affect your Enterprise Change Management, and how these can help you become a change agent for your business, download your free copy of Prosci's Case Study Lessons in ECM: