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In-depth case study - culture assurance in practice


Large, broader public sector, customer facing.

What was the issue, challenge, or question?

The Executive Leadership Team (ELT) wanted to understand why employees held a low opinion of the organisation’s ability to manage change. This was a standard question that was asked as part of the employee engagement survey. Because the organisation had been through a number of significant (organisation wide) and local changes over a period of time, it was ‘assumed’ that ‘it’ managed change well.

The Leadership Team wanted to understand (through the lens of its’ organisation culture) why people held a low opinion about the organisation’s ability to manage change.

Why or how does culture play a role?

Culture is the glue that holds people together, it is a reflection of the ways of working that exist within the workplace and can influence or be shaped by people views about the workplace environment – for example, is the organisation ‘warm and welcoming’ or ‘hostile and aggressive’ in its approach to employees, tasks, processes, systems and also change initiatives.

In this context, the organisation’s culture would be shaped by/ influenced by change events and would need to be taken into account when implementing change programmes.

What was your diagnosis?

Using Hofstede’s six-dimensions framework for evaluating workplace culture and internal audit knowledge of risks and controls there were a number of conclusions, these included:

  • The organisation’s legacy played a distinct role in shaping the organisation’s culture today – there were deeply held assumptions about the organisation that influenced how people identified with the organisation.

  • The organisation was largely process-orientated, also linked to its legacy and nature of the business. The organisation had been on a strategic journey for some time and was currently focused on becoming more results/ outcome focused, closer to the customer, designed with the customer in mind.

  • In making some significant restructuring changes it did not take into account its culture orientation, nor approach its change programmes from a change culture perspective.

  • The organisation was largely parochial towards the lower grades, relied heavily on being collaborative with staff (seeking consultation), exhibited family-esque behaviours (nurturing, caring, described as a big family) and was described as 'collegiate'.

  • Major change events from the past (redundancies and reorganisation) left some scarring for individuals who had been there a long time.

What was the preferred culture; what should change?

The organisation pursued its strategy. It restructured and redesigned some functions – such as becoming more digital, agile in its approach to customers. This implied a culture that would be more dynamic.

The preferred culture was to be more results/ outcome focused – to be more agile, flexible and commercially orientated, which required moving away from being process orientated. It also required understanding where decisions (risk taking) would occur, i.e. closer to the customer. As a 'nurturing' environment it would require a carefully crafted people development programme that would enable confidence in and empower local managers and staff to take decisions (risk taking) closer to the customer.

What has been tried to date?

Some work had been completed on stating values - this was designed by and seen (therefore) as owned by the workforce. The organisation had non-monetary rewards linked to their values and resulting behaviours.

Change programmes were implemented over the years, restructure and realignment of activities to enable closer alignment with the organisation's strategy.

What was your role? What indicators were visible? How do or did you influence the case?

My role was to diagnose the as-is culture, explore reasons why employees held a low opinion about the organisation’s ability to manage change and explain these reasons in the context of the organisation’s ‘as-is’ culture. I acted as a facilitator and independent evaluator who was not ‘affected’ by the organisation’s culture – as an outsider I was able to view emotive perspectives, stories and experiences objectively.

In addition to what has been explained above, some indicators became visible (relating to management):

  • There was no discussion or dialogue over workplace culture amongst the Leadership Team – there was little or no understanding of what workplace culture means and how it influences strategy including change programmes

  • The Leadership Team saw the values as something as belonging to the employee domain. Values were not seen as a driver for change programmes/ events. How values aligned with the organisation’s strategy and vision was not made clear.

  • There was no common understanding or articulation of what was a change programme amongst the Leadership Team

  • There was an ‘us and them’ mindset amongst management when thinking about staff

  • The environment was described as ‘collegiate’, which implies an environment where people were friendly towards each other

A number of recommendations were made:

  • Review the values and see if they were fit for purpose and aligned with the current organisation strategy and direction of travel. It was suggested that these might need to be reworked.

  • Use the values as a change driver.

  • Develop a culture blue print that is aligned to the strategy and direction of travel.

  • Understand the as-is culture, including sub-cultures across the organisation to help inform change programmes.

The report for management reflected:

  • Results of focus groups held with different grades of staff including management – a description of the ‘stories’ shared

  • High level assessment using Hofstede’s culture dimensions to explain aspects of the as-is culture and how it manifests

  • Recommendations for addressing the observations/ findings of the assessment.

What else was possible?

The Leadership Team would find it helpful to review their own unique sub-culture and the impact this has on the rest of the organisation.

What are the broader 'learnings' here?

It was clear that perspectives held by staff could have their roots in historic experiences. People don’t tend to like change, and in a collegiate environment, the experience of change can be difficult and therefore influence the way individuals perceive the management of change.

Describing culture is not easy. In fact, for people who don’t get culture, it can be quite difficult for them to understand the nuance of culture. But in this case, it helped to provide explanations, examples, keep to simple descriptions and cite relevant research.

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