Creating the environment for change
Halebury’s Chris Rawlinson discusses how to build a positive culture in part two of his series on change management.
In my recent piece entitled Ch Ch Ch Ch Change (www.halebury.com/ch-ch-ch-ch-change), I set out the need to consider people as the first priority in any major project, as the buy-in of the team is essential to the success of the project.
To follow on from this, I want to discuss how practically you can get the team to buy in to a project.
Firstly some context. At a macro level within an organisation or a team, you are trying to build a culture that has common and shared values that can then be used to more effectively pursue common and shared goals. This culture then flows down into individual projects and can be applied at a micro level. This is true for all organisations that want to function as a team, from sports teams to the military to the in-house legal team. The importance of having a culture that the team can and will buy into isn’t a new concept. Johnson & Johnson set out theirs, still current, credo in 1943. In recent years culture is gaining increasing popularity as the C Suite begin to realise its power, partly because of the success and failure of companies being attributable, at least in part to culture.
So how do you build a culture? There is no magic recipe. The first thing that is needed is an appreciation that culture is important and an understanding that it will take investment, principally time, to build it. You can’t fake culture. It’s not instant and it can be destroyed very quickly if misused.
So why is building a culture often neglected? There are a number of reasons for this its a slightly vague concept, it pretty difficult to deliver, its as intangible as you get and therefore difficult to measure and its historically undervalued not least because a common reason people are promoted in most organisations is fro their ability to deliver – despite any bumps in the road, people who get the job done get promoted. This can result in a leadership team focused on the delivery of products and financial outcomes at the expense of the ‘softer stuff’, despite the soft stuff being an enabler to delivery.
Another common mistake that many corporates make is to confuse the setting of goals and targets, the outcome, with the underlying culture, the ‘soft stuff’ that sits behind it. These goals and targets are often expressed as ‘mission statements’ and ‘vision statements’. Whilst the sharing of the corporate objectives is critical and an important behaviour in building trust, it does not in itself build the right culture. In fact, a one way presentation of ‘the way its going to be’ often has a negative impact.
A key part of cultural change is to understand the current culture (or cultures!), employee surveys are useful and relatively straightforward and cost-effective to deliver. A word of warning: a safe environment must be created for honest feedback and any survey must be constructed so people are not forced into a binary choice of ‘I love working here soooooo much’ and ‘I hate working here and want to leave immediately’. If you have the trust and relationship with the team, focus groups can work, but be careful these are representative and not filled by folks hungry for advancement or you’ll get a whole bunch of positive energy and lots of actions but likely little real progression. You probably need some help here, maybe a colleague who’s successfully built a great culture, maybe a consultant who a track record in this area, there are a huge number of publications that can help, both with the theory and with practical tools. I particularly like the work of Professor John Kotter due to his use of storytelling and simplicity. Be honest with yourself however – are you comfortable enough to do this without help and how will you cope with negative feedback? If you have doubts get some support, leadership can be very lonely and if you’re a lawyer – highly trained in setting and interpreting rules – this ‘soft stuff’ may be a long way outside your comfort zone.
Once you start to understand where you are, you can start the journey of getting to where you want to be. This takes time, needs a safe environment, commitment from the leadership and trust in the leadership. Starting out is the hard bit, partly because its accepting that there’s a problem and that can be perceived as a failure. A good way to think about this is through a continuous improvement lens. It is the job of everyone is to try and makes things better all of the time.
In part three of this series, I will explore some of the tools and material available to help build a great culture including touching upon the work of Patrick Lencioni, John Kotter and Larry Senn.
Chris Rawlinson is a senior in-house lawyer with Halebury with a background in change management.
For PR enquiries please contact:
Head of Business Development and Marketing
t: 020 7127 2500