How to implement a strategic culture change in an organisation

Is it hard to strategically change the culture of a company that has been in place for so many years. It requires unified effort and time

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Culture is built over the years by the people of the organisation. It starts with the first bunch of employees and it keep shaping up as new members join the gang.

What happens when a company decides to implement a strategic culture change for business reasons.

Is it possible to bring in this change overnight?

Former HR leader, and now co-founder, Fundflo Technologies, Rattan Chugh, believes it is possible and he has done it in his previous stint at Times Internet.

Satyan Gajwani, the then CEO of Times Internet, wanted to shift the mindset of the company from being just a digital arm of Times of India to a tech product company. In this whole process, hiring people from outside was a key activity. Leaders were hired from the tech product industry, which brought in a major change. “But hiring from outside was not the only thing here. Empowering these new hires to drive change was also important,” shares Chugh.

Chugh mentions that Gajwani’s leadership was very clear and he was persistent about bringing about the change. It took time but gradually, it all happened.

“We started rewarding behaviours which promoted the shift to a tech products company. This way, it was easier to bring a change in the mindset of the people as they all got encouraged to replicate the same behaviours,” shares Chugh.

“The need to bring about change has to be clear at the time of drawing out a strategy to change the culture. Otherwise, it will get difficult to communicate to the people the reason why one wants to bring about a change”

Emmanuel David, former director of Tata Management Training Centre

“As a leader one will have to be very persistent with what one wants to do. If one’s vision is clear about what one wants to achieve and how one wants to shape the culture, the task is achievable,” opines Chugh.

By being ‘persistent’, Chugh means that one needs to constantly promote the kind of change in culture one wants to bring about, otherwise the fire may die out within one, and as a result, the people may not bother to change either.

Former director of Tata Management Training Centre, Emmanuel David also opines that the need to bring about change has to be clear at the time of drawing out a strategy to change the culture. Otherwise, it will get difficult to communicate to the people the reason why one wants to bring about a change.

David shares with HRKatha, that he has been part of such culture changes in his career.

During his stint at the Gujarat Gas Company, the Company had to change the way it worked and become more customer centric. At the time, the gas sector in India was highly regulated by the government due to some changes and reforms.

The Company never wanted to be seen or perceived as a firm which sells gas.

“Gujarat Gas wanted to be seen as a company which provides safe and preferred energy as a solution,” recalls David.

To make this possible, all top-management leaders discussed the problems areas or the pain points they wanted to work on and then came up with solutions to tackle those challenges. A committee called the ‘Large Scale Intervention Programme’ (LSIP) was constituted, where all leaders brainstormed about how this big change could be achieved.

One of the challenges that came up was that of the internal communication process. People used to share their problems but no action was taken.

“When I noticed this, I realised how big a problem it was. If the leadership teams and managers failed to act on employees’ problems, then the employees would gradually stop sharing their issues with the management, and there would be no resolution ever,” shares David.

“As a leader one will have to be very persistent with what one wants to do. If one’s vision is clear about what one wants to achieve and how one wants to shape the culture, the task is achievable”

Rattan Chugh, co-founder  Fundflo Technologies & former HR leader

Another problem area that emerged was the appraisal system. The goals were not properly designed, and hence, it was difficult to reward and recognise the people. To solve this, all employees were asked to pen down their individual goals and share them with their managers, which made it easier for the company to reward people for fulfilling their goals. Additionally, all departmental heads shared goals with each other, which created harmony in the company. Everyone was able to understand how to work together to achieve one single goal of the company.

Another interesting instance of a strategic culture change was at Dr Reddy’s where GV Prasad, co-chairman, Dr Reddy’s, championed this change.

The Company wanted to lean down some of the processes to make faster decisions and reduce turnaround time. They launched a tag line called ‘good health can’t wait’. After driving this change like a movement, the company was able to achieve it.

Prasad realised that the change came when a scientist prepared a medicine product in just 15 days, breaking all the rules of the company, which were earlier in place, especially pertaining to procurement of raw material.

“When one starts feeling that the majority of the population has started to behave in a manner one wants them to, then one can say that the change has finally taken place,” asserts Chugh.

To bring a change in a company’s culture, constant communication is very important, one has to tell the people why the change is required. The second most important thing is to have leaders who can cascade that change and be persistent about the exercise. Otherwise, the whole movement runs the risk of losing steam.

It is essential to be clear about the vision of the company and where one wants to go. Ultimately, the fact remains that the whole process requires time. Culture change does not happen overnight, it takes time and effort to bring about a cultural transformation, especially in a large organisation.

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