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  • Writer's pictureSinéad Egan

Why Culture Change Initiatives Often Fail & How To Prevent It

Introduction

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Your organisational culture, along with your operating model and strategy, is critical to high performance. The alignment of this trio determines success in any organisation. So, whether planning for growth, embarking on transformation, improving employee retention, or navigating market challenges, you must pay attention to your culture and measure and manage it.


An organisational culture aligned with your vision can lead to improved results, better employee morale, increased productivity, and enhanced innovation.


Organisational culture represents the shared values, beliefs, and behaviours that define a company's identity. It evolves over time as the organisation adopts ways of working, and it sets the tone for how employees interact with each other, make decisions, and contribute to the organisation's mission.


When you start to measure your culture, you will find out both the strengths and the challenges inherent in it. Then you will undertake a programme of improvements or changes to help develop the desired culture in the organisation.


However, despite well-intentioned efforts, many culture changes tend to falter or fail. We explore the most common reasons why and what you can do to avoid them.


Common Culture Change Blockers

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Short Term Thinking


Culture change does not happen overnight. Often organisations look for quick fixes to culture challenges that may not address the root cause of the challenge. Real culture change which shifts behavioural norms and mindsets will typically happen over a period of 1 to 5 years.


Lack of Leadership Commitment


One of the primary reasons culture change initiatives fail is a lack of genuine commitment from senior leadership. To drive meaningful culture change, leaders must actively champion it through their words and actions.


Resistance to Change


As humans, we naturally resist change. This resistance is often rooted in fear of the unknown or a fear of losing something such as job security or simply the comfort of familiar ways of doing things. Culture change can be perceived as a threat to the status quo, prompting employees to push back.


Insufficient Governance and Change Management


Another critical factor contributing to the failure of culture change initiatives is the absence of proper change management and governance. Without a structured approach to planning, implementing, embedding, and measuring the change, it won’t have the intended impact.


Success Factors for Culture Change

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Create Senior Leadership Alignment and Buy-in


Get leaders on board by connecting culture outcomes to business outcomes. Ask them to commit to the changes needed as sponsors, advocates, and role models. Commitment is not a one-off exercise; often people are enthusiastic at the beginning, and then other priorities take over. Ensure that senior leaders regularly spend time on culture and that they have time to reflect on their role and reaffirm their commitment to the desired culture.


Dedicate Change Capability to Culture Initiatives


Don’t just tag culture onto a HR Generalist’s role. Create a change coalition with the necessary expertise and change capability, depending on what your priorities are. The change coalition should set out clear objectives and a detailed plan for how the change will happen and how results will be measured.


Communicate Consistently


Ensure the case for change is clear to all employees and communicate progress updates frequently. Make sure leaders and managers are not sending mixed signals through actions that are misaligned with the desired culture, as behaviour is the strongest form of communication.


Get Employees Involved


Make sure employee consultation happens before changes are imposed. Continuously listen to employees to gather feedback and endeavour to create an environment where employees can ask questions, raise concerns, or offer ideas freely.


Make Everyone Accountable


Everyone is ultimately responsible for creating the right culture in the organisation. Once the desired behaviours are established and communicated, clear accountability mechanisms, including performance evaluations and recognition systems that align with the desired culture, should be implemented.


Conclusion

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Culture change initiatives frequently fail due to short-term thinking, a lack of leadership commitment, resistance to change, and insufficient governance and change management. To counter this, create senior leadership alignment and buy-in, dedicate change capability to culture initiatives, communicate consistently, get employees involved, and make everyone accountable for the desired culture.


Managing culture can be complex and challenging, but its potential benefits make it worthwhile pursuing. Couple this with the fact that culture exists and evolves in all organisations anyway – so there is no point ignoring it, you should understand it, measure it, and evolve it to align with the vision and purpose of the organisation.


If you need help diagnosing your current culture, setting your culture ambition, or creating culture change – get in touch with us today!


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