Change management: How to navigate culture transformation

HRD talks to the HRD of Affinity Education Group on how they triumphed over rapid growth to create a thriving culture

Change management: How to navigate culture transformation

Transforming an organisation’s culture is difficult enough, but when you combine it with rapid growth and an emphasis onlearning, it becomes a truly monumental task.

Affinity Education Group were formed and listed on the ASX in late 2013 and at the time had 57 childcare centres throughout Australia.

However, during a hectic 18-month period, the organisation grew to 166 centres and more than 3,000 employees.

This included the acquisition of small family owned businesses and some larger groups of centres, each of which had their own kind of culture.

“As a business, we didn’t have any unifying culture or strategy, or any real structure or systems or processes,” said Linda Carroll, head of people and culture at Affinity Education Group.

“We didn’t have the framework we needed to manage a labour force of 3,000 people. We ended up being purchased by a private-equity firm and we were delisted. And that’s where our change management strategy really began.

“Change management was an important part of our approach because we had a substantial size workforce which had been put together from a variety of individual centres around the country.”

The first step on the pathway to change was to develop a culture program. This involved defining what their culture was and what their values were. This was done in conjunction with educators and managers in the centres. That culture program was implemented in 2016 and called The Affinity Way.

“We were careful to use language they could identify with and that really started us on our change management journey and got buy-in from the people in the field. They could identify with who we were as a business and what we stood for and set out to achieve,” said Carroll. 

The next step was implementing a communications platform within their HRIS to drive and deliver that culture program. This involved facilitating connection with employees to recognise people that were demonstrating behaviours that aligned with their values and culture.

Read more: Five tips for successful change management

“Our CEO really drove that from the top down and he still connects everyday with our people all around the country on that internal platform. That has really helped drive our culture and embed it,” said Carroll.

“We had about 15,000 posts over the last year and about 90% of our employees are on there and engaged which is really good to see.”

Moreover, understanding how they were going to achieve the level of capabilities to deliver learning outcomes for the children in their care required the development of a competency framework.

“The framework we designed around the competencies was holistic and it linked to their culture program and values,” said Carroll. 

It also identified the behaviours that staff would need to be able to demonstrate if they were competent in certain areas and what they needed to exhibit to excel in their roles.

Carroll said creating a learning management system and developing a system around competencies was “key to L&D success”.

The L&D program was rolled out over a six-month period which was a blended approach of face-to-face learning, on-the-job coaching and online training.

“We had already implemented the culture but this was giving them tools they needed and linking the tools back to the competencies they needed to do the job, so it was a huge undertaking,” said Carroll.

It was then a matter of enabling ongoing training to be a readily available opportunity because new people were coming into the business and their were always new skills which had to be learnt.

“So, we developed a learning academy where we partnered with some RTOs and looked at maximising the government funding that was available to deliver accredited training. We have over 400 trainees across the business at the moment.”

Read more: Change manager’s are HR’s most wanted

If you ask Carroll what aspect of HR she’s most passionate, she’ll tell you it always comes back to training and development.

And as far as results are concerned, she is particularly proud that more than half of their centre managers have been promoted into their current roles internally and their overall performance has increased by around 10% over the past 12 months.

“Ongoing learning and development helps improve the quality of the business and engagement overall,” she added.

Carroll’s final piece of advice to implement a successful change management strategy is to focus on building relationships with people and making an effort to understand what their concerns are.

“It’s then a matter of asking yourself: How can I solve those problems from the HR space?” 

Affinity Education Group are a finalist are the upcoming Australian HR Awards. To register, click here.

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