Blog: How to handle cultural alignment -Part II

Culture

How to handle cultural alignment -Part II

Bringing about a vital change requires understanding and participation from the senior leaders of an organization
How to handle cultural alignment -Part II

The Leader is the Change

To any organization which is on course to transforming itself, there is no message more vital and none as easily overlooked in the hum-drum of everyday work, than “Change needs to be driven from the very top”. It is a well-worn cliché now. Plenty of examples of leaders transforming organizations exist. However, in all our experience, we are yet to come across a single successful transformation which has occurred without visible and sustained contribution from the senior leadership. It is therefore very shocking how often this simple lesson is forgotten. We will go as far as to say that it is the visible commitment of the leadership itself which creates the difference between success and failure of a Culture Transformation program.

A leading IT, BPO and Consulting group prides itself in it’s non-hierarchical, inclusive culture. Its Indian operations however had evolved organically into a mammoth organization characterised by a rigid chain of command and stifling bureaucracy. In certain parts of the organization, 4 levels of approvals were required to issue stationery!

While an organization-wide Business Process Re-engineering initiative was initiated to bring in efficiencies, mind-set transformation remained the greatest hurdle. To be fair to the managers, there is a reason any initiative aimed at automating anything which was earlier handled by a human is never put to vote! The biggest gripe of the middle and senior management was a fear of “loss of control”.

It helped that the Senior Leadership began the program by taking a personal pledge in visibly transforming their individual behaviours. The “hot-desking” concept was enforced in India. Cabins were dismantled and it wasn’t unusual to see the CEO looking for a seat on a day all hot desks were occupied!

In a recent survey conducted by the group, employee sentiment on “Inclusiveness”, “Belongingness” and “Confidence in Leadership” showed a marked improvement. The Indian operations also topped the globe in Customer Satisfaction in 2012 (it was 3rd from bottom in 2009, when the BPR was initiated)

Knowing what not to change

If one walked into this manufacturing company today, one wouldn’t recognise it from what it used to be a decade back. The company today is a Fortune 500 organization with operations across the globe. It has transformed itself dramatically into a fast paced, competitive and customer focused organization with a global outlook.

However, a day spent interacting with leaders and workers at the shop floor also reveals another, more vital truth about the organization: the core values that have helped this organization survive and thrive for over a century remain unchanged. All business decisions are still driven towards boosting “Triple Bottom line”. The organization still prides on being employee centric, committed to the local community and steadfastly ethical in all its business dealings. There is an almost universal consensus that the company’s commitment to ethics, the society and to the employee are what has made it the global force it is and to lose that core will chart a path to rapid decline.

Key lessons

  1. Recognise your core capability: In Visioning exercises, most organizations in India like to define themselves as “Customer Centric” over “Product Focused” or “Operationally Efficient” regardless of they are or not. We suspect, most do this because it sounds like a nicer thing to say (who doesn’t want to be customer centric?). This is yet another example of how organizations often fail to recognize their own DNA. It never helps, specially, when there is a need for transformation. The above organization for example recognizes Operational Efficiency as its core strength. As it feels the need to constantly innovate to beat competition and to meet customers’ requirements, it also recognises the need to be “market driven and not market led”. It’s a thin line.
  2. Recognise your core values: There is no way of elaborating on this without lapsing into clichés. Values are the soul of the organization. It is important to not lose yourself as you change.

What makes for a successful Culture Alignment program?

The most successful Cultural Alignment programs succeed in answering with a resounding “Yes!” to the following questions:

  1. Are we doing the right thing?
  2. Will it still be us?
  3. Do I belong here?
  4. Are our Leaders capable of steering us through this? (Or-less politely, do our leaders know what they are doing?)
  5. Can I do better? However, it goes beyond answering the questions in the affirmative and in the realms of living it every day. After all, did a practitioner not define Culture as “the way we do things around here”?

As Managing Consultant with Mercuri Urval India, Shwetabh is focused on bringing Mercuri Urval’s global capabilities on Organization Transformation to India. Shwetabh has handled several leadership roles in a career spanning over 12 years across 17 countries worldwide. He has worked with leading consulting organizations like Mercer, Gallup, Accenture, IBM, Capgemini and Right Management. He has to his credit several success stories of helping organizations transform and enhance their competitiveness. He is also an Assessor, a Senior level Workshop Facilitator and an Executive Coach.

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Topics: Culture, #ChangeManagement

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