Change Management: Stop Failing to Change, Part 3

July 9, 2015 - 7 minute read - Posted by

In my previous blogs I discussed the first two phases in change management. The first blog focused on unfreezing. This phase disrupts the status quo to show a need for change and develops a vision for moving forward. The second blog focused on the transition. This is where the change vision and strategy are put into action. Now I’ll focus on Refreezing, the third step to complete the change management process.

The final phase in making successful organizational changes, deals with solidifying those changes as the new norm. The goal is to stabilize the organization to ensure that the new behaviors are safe from going back to how things were done in the past. Refreezing often requires changes in the organization’s culture. You can think of an organization’s culture like its genetic code. Cultures are complex sets of shared beliefs, guiding values, behavioral norms, and basic assumptions that shape  thinking and behavior. Culture can stop change dead in its tracks, but it can also take it to new heights. The key is to figure out how to get culture to work for you instead of against you.

What makes up an organization’s culture?

First, you need to have a clear picture of the current culture. In Principles of Management, the authors describe an organization’s culture as consisting of three interrelated levels. At the core are basic assumptions that characterize our beliefs about human nature and reality. The middle layer has our values, which are shared principles, standards, and goals. Finally, the outer layer consists of artifacts, which are the visible and tangible aspects of culture.

For example, one of the most commonly shared assumptions is that happy employees benefit their organizations. This is supported by values like egalitarianism, positivity, and having fun at work. Artifacts that you might see in support of those values could include: an ‘open’ door policy, regular team building events, a pool table, and an easy-going dress code.

In order to understand an organization’s culture you start by observing the artifacts: the work environment, how people dress, reward systems, and company policies. These tangible aspects are a great starting point, but it’s not enough. The values and assumptions are below the surface and require a deeper look into employee interactions and the choices they make.

Looking at our own culture here at 7Geese, one of the first visible aspects I noticed when joining was our weekly lunch and learn.

Every Wednesday one or two team members present on a topic of interest for the rest of the team during an organization paid lunch hour. But, these lunches are not just simple team building exercises. If you were to sit in on one you would see that they are focused on topics relating back to our business and industry, benefiting the knowledge growth of the entire team.

These lunches promote the value of being a learning organization and striving for ongoing development. We share a few laughs with some of the presentations, so having fun is another value that gets promoted. As you dig below the surface you can see the assumption about culture: continuous learning is necessary for employees and the organization to remain competitive in a constantly changing business environment. Remember that this is just one piece of our culture. In order to get a complete picture you need to examine more than a single artifact and its connecting values and assumptions.

By examining the artifacts as well as the values and assumptions behind them you can start putting together what makes up an organization’s culture. Once you have a clear picture of the current cultural elements, you need to evaluate if they are aligned to support the changes at hand. To ensure a lasting transformation they need to be aligned.

Does the culture support the change?

If there is a discrepancy between the current culture and the goals of a change initiative, culture will win every time. Culture is rooted in our deepest assumptions and values and as such is extremely difficult to alter. Change efforts tend to break before cultural support comes around. If a change has no cultural support it won’t be adopted into the organization’s routines and embedded as a norm. Instead, our assumptions and values will pull us back to the old ways of thinking and behaving.

To ensure there will be cultural support for your change initiative, conduct a quick Gap Analysis. Start by defining the existing organizational culture. Then, characterize the target culture needed to support the change at hand. Once you know where you’re at and where you need to be you can identify the gaps between the two. All that remains is to come up with a plan to bridge those gaps; changing the artifacts on the surface or digging deeper to instil new values or assumptions.

Organizational culture is a massive topic that I could not hope to cover in a single blog. However, recognizing the importance of an organization’s culture in sustaining successful changes is what I hope this achieved. Refreezing is all about having a culture in place to support your changes in the long-run. Too many changes revert back to the original state of things because of a lack of cultural support. Making sure that your organization’s culture supports the changes being made will help stabilize them as the new status quo.

I would love to hear how your organization has made lasting changes with the help of cultural support in the comments below!

Tags: , , ,