Leaders must let employees drive cultural change: Study

HRD investigates the biggest barriers to transforming a culture and how to successfully enact change

Leaders must let employees drive cultural change: Study

How can leaders go about reengineering their culture to gain a competitive edge?  

They can start by letting employees drive the change, according to Aaron McEwan, HR advisory leader of CEB, now Gartner.

“In particular, with those organisations that are going through culture change if they don’t have what we call Workforce-Culture Alignment they won’t actually get the culture to stick and embed,” McEwan told HRD.

“So the CEO can come in and espouse a cultural vision, but in order for the organisation to live and breathe that culture it actually requires employees to change the way they behave and carry out their work - otherwise you don’t actually get a culture change.”

McEwan added that the biggest barrier to getting a culture to transform is the degree to which you can actually get employees enacting that culture in their everyday work.

In Australia, the most sought-after types of cultures are innovative, customer-centric, high-performance based, ethical or collaborative, said McEwan.

However, new research from CEB, now Gartner, found that there is no single culture that is a standout in terms of enhancing performance.

“What was interesting in our research is that there is no one particular culture that is better than another,” said McEwan.

“So whether you are pursuing a culture of high performance, an ethical culture, a customer-centric culture or an innovation culture it didn’t really matter in terms of the financial performance or organisational performance.

“What matters is the degree to which you have that WCA and the degree to which employees are essentially enacting the culture at the ground level.”

According to the latest research from CEB, now Gartner, WCA can increase performance revenue goals by 9%, increase reputation outcomes by 16% and see a 22% increase in employee performance.

Moreover, culture is so important that organisations are spending approximately $2,823 per employee on their annual culture spend in an attempt to get it right.

Despite the investment, just 3% of HR leaders believe they have the culture needed to drive future business performance, while just 10% are confident their organisation understands their culture.

“For years leaders have taken the traditional approach to driving culture by simply communicating what it is and then trying to get employees to fit the mould; either by changing the people they have or bringing in people who fit the culture they need,” said McEwan.

“The best organisations are addressing the knowledge, mindset and behaviour gaps of employees, by moving away from people-focused to process-focused strategies in order to get a higher level of alignment between the workforce and the desired culture.”



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