31 May What everyone ought to know about culture change
Changing culture, safety or otherwise, is a long hard slog. Let’s not beat around the bush about this. Research suggests that around 70% of change programmes are doomed to failure – which begs the question why?
Well sometimes you have no choice, like mergers, down-sizing, buy-outs, new technology etc. In these situations change is very much forced on people because the guys at the top need to axe jobs, shut sites or replace technology. This type of change often has very clear objectives for the senior stakeholders yet the lowly workforce just have to roll with it and hope their job still exists in one form or another at the end.
Change like this is horrendously stressful for everyone concerned. Communication is usually poor too because no one wants to give away corporate secrets. And when redundancies are announced, management find all the good staff switch to their competitors and they’re left with a much less experienced and educated pool than they had six months ago. Maybe talking to staff about timescales and job security would prevent mass exodus but you don’t know.
What about those blind fools who actually choose to embark on a culture change programme just to make things better?
These people are often in a minority which makes things difficult right from the start. They have to create a need for change in people who haven’t realised it themselves. Perhaps there haven’t been any accidents or incidents for a while, market share hasn’t decreased and customers are loyal – all this creates a feeling of inertia which is hard to get past. Motivating people for change, whether it’s learning a new IT system or even a new form for ordering PPE is hard, if the old one worked why change it? Is the thought process people get stuck in.
In this era of having to react quickly to changes in the marketplace it’s easier to convince people of the need to stay up-to-date with new technologies and flatter company structures, but they still don’t embrace it. If staff are vaguely proactive they’ll do it because they understand the idea, but if not they just slow change down with their disassociation from it. You might have spotted this from people who are too busy to turn up to training or workshops. These people must challenged and there must be a balance of carrot and stick otherwise people simply don’t bother.
If you’re the person in charge of the change process you must sell the idea and its benefits. And that’s difficult when the rewards and goals which reinforce people’s efforts are a long way off and not immediately obvious to them. Change is scary for most people when they don’t clearly understand the need for it. It’s very disruptive and stressful and people will resort to old habits if given half a chance.
How to maintain momentum
So promoting to, energising and inspiring people about change is the most important part of any change programme that isn’t being forced on people. You can make that job easier for yourself too:
- Challenge people consistently to understand their behaviour
- Put consistent consequences in place as a deterrent
- Keep ideas for selling change fresh and engaging
- Get leaders on side who enforce new processes
- Communicate your ideas with passion
One common reason why change programmes fail is quite simply because the team leading it are knackered! If you come across as tired and resigned to failure people will treat culture change as if it’s just other doomed initiative to come out of the safety team.