Who leads cultural change?

Cultural change is something that is much talked about at the moment borne out of the necessity of the challenging financial climate. There was an interesting Twitterchat about this during the week when the conversation turned to who should lead cultural change. Some said it should be from the ground floor upwards, others that it was within the HR world and others that the communication professional should be a driver of change.

I was reflecting on those comments last night (Saturday 10 November) as I watched George Entwistle resign from the BBC Director General position. I am not going to give any opinion on what he did and whether it was appropriate. The one thing I did start to consider however is who and how could cultural change be introduced into the BBC. And more importantly who is going to be the person to drive that change activity?

I remain really clear about the person I think has to drive cultural change in any organisation and that is the man or woman at the top. They need to have clarity about what they want the business to be like, and what they want the values to be. Without this then there is no clear picture or image of what the ideal culture needs to be. It is the Chief Executive or Chairman, or whoever is at the top, that needs to paint a picture to other senior staff that can be understood and easily interpreted.

Only when this picture has been outlined can the rest of the staff get involved to make it happen. For senior managers it is about understanding the culture that exists currently and where the organisation wants to be. Once this is clear then they can ensure that the right signs and symbols are in place, those things that show what is valued in the organisation and what behaviour gets rewarded. Senior managers are the ones that can demonstrate this on a daily basis.

For the HR staff specifically they can then ensure the key people policies are reflective of the new culture being sought. The work has to be supported by those who have any responsibility for ensuring the professional standards are in place. Of course the communication leader has a key part to play to support the CEO and the senior staff. They can help to illustrate the change required, but also can being to promote the signs and symbols that drive the business forward. But I am clear that this cannot be achieved without the clear articulation of what the change needs to be and what the organisation wants to become.

So, where do the ground floor and front line staff come into this? My view is that they cannot lead the change. They can help to frame it and also put in a healthy challenge to it. But it is for the person at the top to define the culture required to make the organisation as successful as possible. This can’t be allowed to just develop from what the front line staff find they want as it is not always going to be the best for the business.

The strong leader at the top of the organisation has a huge responsibility to make the change happen within. This is something I believe the BBC management need to keep in mind when they start to plan how to take things forward in the coming weeks and months.

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One Response to Who leads cultural change?

  1. likeaword says:

    Up to a point I agree with you

    I absolutely agree that the Chief Exec is crucial in setting the tone and role modelling what is important and what behaviours we value.

    But I think culture is more complex than that. It is created by all of the people in the organisation in their daily negotiations with each other and with customers and stakeholders. It frames the way they look at every situation to the extent that it becomes hard to imagine that there could be another way to behave.

    For me the top bod can absolutely pick the things to focus on:
    – to many accidents at work? we will develop a safe working culture
    – performance shoddy? we will become obsessed by performance management
    and so on

    And they can drive the culture in these directions. But actions have consequences and while the areas of focus improve other behaviours may worsen.

    My view is that effective cultural change may begin at the top but it cannot be imposed on an organisation. leaders must inspire others and listen to the voices within the culture and outside. Cultural change requires that everyone decide to start behaving differently and that is not in the gift of the Chief Executive.


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