Changing Organisational Culture Starts with Identifying the Problem

Before one can even begin to approach a change in organisational culture, one must first be able to identify the business problem. Why you want to change the organisation is perhaps the first question to ask. What is the business problem that led you to consider the organisational change in the first place? If you can’t identify the problem before you set out on the massive undertaking of rebuilding culture, then you are doomed to wind up in some distant land without purpose or direction.

Edgar Schein, Professor Emeritus with the MIT Sloan School of Management, states that “if a leader just starts with how you change the culture, then they already don’t understand the problem” (Kuppler 2014). To say that something “isn’t working” is entirely different from saying great mistrust exists between front-line staff and front-line supervisors. When you identify the problem with specificity, you can then identify what you want behaviour to look like in the future. Without identifying the specific problem that you are trying to solve, then you can’t create a culture that will effectively combat the problem.

Dive Deeper Down the Rabbit Hole

For example, if mistrust exists between front-line staff and management, it is unlikely that it is because organisational policy dictated it to be so. Often, what leaders find is that a discrepancy between values and behaviours exists, entrenched and exacerbated by cultural rules. This forces a leader to dive deeper down the rabbit hole and discover the driving behaviours and root systems that are causing the mistrust.

It is at that level of specificity that the actual problem begins to come into focus. Schein points out that culture can become a bottomless pit if you don’t get groups of people involved in solving real problems. Here at Innovation Central, we’ve had no short supply of clients coming to us looking for guidance on changing organisational culture. The very first question we ask them is why. Why do you want to change your organisation’s culture? Before you become an agent of change, you have to be able to identify the problem. Only then can you put into place a culture that solves the problem.

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Kuppler, T. (2014). Culture Fundamentals – 9 Important Insights from Edgar Schein. Human Synergistics (online). Available: https://www.humansynergistics.com/blog/culture-university/details/culture-university/2014/03/03/culture-fundamentals—9-important-insights-from-edgar-schein (2019, July)