What’s the most important aspect of a cultural change project? 

I was asked a great question by a client today: What’s the most important aspect of a cultural change project?

My answer – Relationships and trust.

Think of a time in your life when you had to do something you didn’t want to. Perhaps you were scared of taking on a new role or responsibilities. What helped motivate you to take the plunge? I’d guess that somewhere, someone you know and trust helped you understand why you were worried, and then gave you the confidence to tackle the unknown anyway.

The same principle applies in organisations. Help staff to understand the changes, why they are needed and show you can be trusted, and the change journey becomes a whole lot easier.

What can you do to help underpin cultural change?

  • Relationships make or break your cultural change. Most technology projects don’t fail because of functionality issues; they fail because project teams don’t have strong relationships across the business. Implementing the system becomes the outcome, not improving a business process or service.
  • Understand that different people need to be engaged in different manners. I’m an extrovert. I like talking and I wave my hands around frequently to demonstrate a point. I know that some of my team finds this intimidating, so instead of always defaulting to my preferred approach of small group, impromptu meetings, I set up a meeting and send through what I want to talk about. This is harder for me, but much better for the quieter members of my team who have time to plan their contributions.
  • Understand that trust is earned, not sold. All the benefits in the world won’t help your project if the implementation team is siloed and disliked by the broader business.
  • Don’t discount the role of a motivated and motivating leader. These people are trusted relationships personified; if you have a leader like this, hang on to them and use them as much as you can.

In a nut shell, remember that every organisation is made up of people. People are social creatures and our relationships are a large part of our decision making framework. Connect the right people, motivate them and earn their trust – it will make the cultural change easier for everyone.

Dr Vanessa Douglas-Savage

Consulting Director