Culture – we’ve talked about it a lot recently and how businesses with a happy and engaged workforce tend to succeed more than those with a poor culture. In fact, research suggests businesses with a poor company culture cost the UK economy £23.6million a year[1]. But culture is more, much more than that. As organisations try to navigate the turbulent and unpredictable business landscape, especially those in, or doing business in, the UK, senior leaders can’t just rely on simple restructuring and re-engineering to steady the ship. Instead, they need to develop strong corporate cultures that support innovation, agility and operational efficiencies.

It sounds simple yet to build these desired cultures, leaders need buy-in from their employees and need to encourage individuals to also take ownership in the change.  This is easier said than done, as many employees, especially in larger enterprises, don’t see themselves as responsible for the success of the organisation.  They think that is down to the leaders of the business and that view needs to be transformed.  If business leaders can build an ‘ownership mentality’ across their workforce, the odds of success increase dramatically.

“Owners” take responsibility for their team and organisation, signalling to colleagues and stakeholders their commitment. And all it takes to be an owner is to act like one.  For employees to feel they can act like an owner, they need to be empowered. They need to be given permission to take charge of their ‘part’ of leading the business forward.

Baby steps

Wholesale changes can often seem overwhelming, which in turn leads to people putting up barriers to that change.  By breaking down bold goals that will drive the desired change into smaller components it can become a more sustainable and successful way to consistently address and transform the business. Owners need to remember that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Assigning these components to employees so they can ‘own’ the journey (under the sponsorship of key leaders) will enable everyone to feel that they can help drive the change required.

Leading by example

We’ve all heard it before, leadership culture is the web of beliefs, practices, behaviours and patterns, all of which reinforce each other.  It’s ‘the way things are done around here’.  It is the way people interact, make decisions, and influence others.

Leaders’ own conscious and unconscious beliefs drive decisions and behaviours, and repeated behaviours become leadership practices. Eventually these practices become the patterns of leadership culture.  Everyone is responsible for creating these patterns.

The recent Trudeau and Trump debacle at the 70th anniversary of Nato[2] is a sad example of what happens when not all the owners share the common goal or subscribe to the same culture of the organisation. It completely detracts from the purpose of the celebrations which were meant to demonstrate that there is still a need for such an organisation despite all the changes that have occurred since it was formed so many years ago. Instead of demonstrating unity across leaders the image has been damaged on the world stage and the very culture so many strived to develop and present across the globe has taken a major blow. All because a few individuals didn’t ‘own’ their part of business.

The Model for Change

Fortunately, not many organisations are as political or as complex as Nato! But how do businesses make the move from simply talking about change to re-aligning their culture to assist with driving that change and then actually doing it?  We’ve helped many businesses to navigate and effectively drive change by getting them to commit, as individuals and a team, to owning the change.

The key to ensuring the best level of success of any change programme is to identify people in the business who have the right mindsets, energy and enthusiasm to help drive the change.  Of course, it is also important to assess, in advance, what skills, behaviours, knowledge and capabilities will be required to effect the change the organisation is looking for.  Planning in advance is critical to success.

Once individuals have been identified and the planning process has been completed the leaders of change need to equip their people. Empowering others isn’t about giving people ‘enough rope’ it’s about aligning their capabilities and investing in them to help them drive change. They need to be prepared and not just left to hang.

From there they need to have clarity of direction, underpinned by the agreed purpose and values of the business. And this is where the senior team need to lead by example – they need to trust, engage and most importantly, empower others.

Driving change throughout an organisation doesn’t happen in an instant. It takes commitment. Everyone, across the entire business, needs to persist; they need to trust one another and support one another through challenging times and celebrate the small wins along the way.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey”. The last decade has been one of the most turbulent of our time. Businesses that create and maintain a culture capable of riding the waves of change will be the ones that survive and thrive in the next one.

Author Bio: Kerry Jarred, Co-Founder, Ignium: Leadership Development and Change Experts

[1] https://www.glassdoor.co.uk/Award/Best-Places-to-Work-UK-LST_KQ0,22.htm

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2019/dec/04/johnson-trudeau-and-macron-appear-to-joke-about-trump-at-nato-summit-video

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