Decoding a Successful Culture Transformation!

Decoding a Successful Culture Transformation!


Organization cultures are unique. Starbucks, GE, Google or HUL, the names convey an imagery of their shared beliefs, values and culture even when we may not have personally experienced it.

As organizations evolve, cultures perpetuate, solidify and declare some part of it as redundant due to strategy or management philosophy change, M&A/ Spin offs, globalization, pandemics and various other factors. Due to the uniqueness of org cultures, a “one size fit all” approach to culture transformation does not usually work.


What is Culture?

Steve Denning (2011) defines an organization’s culture as, “an interlocking set of goals, roles, processes, values, communications practices, at titudes, and assumptions [that] fit together as a mutually reinforcing system and combine to prevent any attempt to change it.

Culture Change Frameworks

  • BEAR Model by Connor & Smith (1999)
  • Lewin’s 3 Stage Process of Culture Change
  • Schein Model
  • Competing Values Model by Kim Cameron & Robert Quin
Over years various culture transformation cum change management models have been deployed. In this blog I have enumerated five aspects to be mindful of as a culture change practitioner, and if implemented can lead to a successful change.
  1. Revisiting the role of Boards in Shaping Culture: Meeting the challenge of the future
    There is no denying that culture of the organization has a derivative effect on the stakeholder wealth. Hence, it becomes important to incorporate culture on Board’s agenda while the ownership to drive it remains with executive leadership team. The Board Perspective published by Mckinsey in 2016, stated that one of the key parameters to assess the effectiveness of the board and its forward-looking mindset is the way they engage to understand and influence organization culture. The role of the Board now, is not just limited to ensuring compliance but also helping the executive team sharpen their culture proposition by providing an external lens and assessing whether the executive team has the culture fluency to define its linkage to strategy to take it forward.
  2. Looking at policies as an important lever
    Steve Denning defines culture to be an interlock of various organizational levers that fit together to form a system. Policies have proven to be a strong instrument in remodeling systems besides showcasing management commitment to change or catalyzing shift in employee behavior. However, it is observed that policies are not considered as a significant tool to drive culture change in many studies.One of the few examples to drive home the significance of policies is how Ricardo Semler, owner of Semco Partners in 1980s, decided to give company policies and procedures a complete overhaul to change Semco’s bureaucratic, controlled and hierarchical culture. It is an interesting case in point, well captured in the books Maverick & The 7 Day Weekend!
  3. Failing to define and integrate culture as part of your business operating model
    The greatest risk organizations run in incapacitating the efforts on culture transformation is when they fail to do the following 3 things:

    • Honor the strengths of existing culture as much as they reflect on the need to change. Many transformation efforts do not balance the two and the by product is a very confused positioning on culture for all employees.
    • Define culture aspirations in simple terms for employees, communicate with clarity, care and honesty on what is changing and how will it feel. When the dialogue around culture remains limited to the elite group and not cascaded to employees, they don’t understand the rationale behind the change. They distance themselves, grown doubtful and insecure and start resisting it unconsciously. This aggravates when other transformations like digital, org restructuring, M&A integration come along as riders. An early active partnership with internal communications team in crafting both, a communication strategy and an EVP goes a long way in reaching out to the employees, cultivating the change with each communication and building an “employee centric”, “inclusive” and “well thought” culture change approach.
    • Integration of the soft part of the culture (behaviors, attitudes and ways of working) with the hard part of the organization (structure, processes, key influencer networks, roles & responsibilities & decision making). The best ways to do it is start with leaders! Today’s CXOs are chief culture officers, they are constantly watched both internally and externally by all. The views and behaviors they portray is an extension of organization’s culture, while most organizations spend effort in managing the external leader image the internal images are not tended to and seemingly insignificant actions on their part speak volumes about culture to employees. Get the leaders to focus on few critical behavior shifts and coach them to role model those behaviors in the way they engage with employees and customers, take decisions, react to business as usual challenges. A sustained culture transformation can only happen when leaders make it a part of how they do business and set a precedence.
  4. Measure Culture: What gets measured, matters!
    Culture has been mostly subjective, with a traditional measurement approach. Organizations define the current state, the desired state, deploy interventions and identify metrics on Talent/ D&I/ Attrition/ Engagement and Culture scores classically to measure improvement and change. However, they are lagging indicators and identify the symptoms which need further diagnosis & validation to understand the linkage to culture. They do not measure the softer leading aspects which influence culture at grassroot level like impact of shared networks, resources & structures, information flow, team interaction and power plays, underlying beliefs and assumptions, energy of the place, trust & transparency quotient. With the advent of predictive tools, AI enabled solutions and concepts like organizational network analysis, neuroscience, it would be interesting to see how organizations build and mine cultural intelligence data in real time.
  5. Disrupters to Culture: It’s not just internal!
    In the VUCA world organizational cultures are no more insulated and it is important to constantly scan the external environment and trends which could otherwise disrupt the internal culture. The organizations were still experimenting to create cultures and subcultures to assimilate GIG, Millennials meet Gen Z environments, technology adoption when all of us were caught unaware by the pandemic. COVID19 disrupted the concept of workplace which was the crucible of culture. The organizations which have quickly pivoted and preserved the culture fabric are the ones which were culturally agile, tech enabled, quick to unlearn, relearn and responded with empathy.

–By Diksha Fouzdar [DGM, HR Culture & Engagement, Strides Pharma Science Ltd]

Authors bio:

Diksha Fouzdar, a senior HR professional with 12 years of experience in Business Partnering, Capability Development, Talent Management, Organization Design & Culture transformation. She has led large scale projects in the areas of organization effectiveness and restructuring, competency framework design & application, HR Digitization in complex business environments with exceptional stakeholder and project management skills.

She is currently with Strides Pharma Science Ltd. as DGM HR driving the Culture & Engagement agenda. She is fascinated by the AI & Tech HR domain and watches this space closely to solve for people & business issues.

Her purpose in life is to make an impact by making difference. She likes to observe people behavior in the context of organization dynamics and pens down her experiences, which she will be soon launching as “Reflections of A Fly on the Wall” – series exploring learnings from workplace experiences on LinkedIn.

Apart from her work, she loves doing stuff with her son as they both are enjoy art, reading and
dancing! Two thing which stress her are cooking and driving!

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