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Culture + Change: A potentially disruptive recipe

Recently, I shared why your company’s culture matters and why it should be clearly defined. Finding the right fit and building the right team that believes in your mission and your vision can lead to improved performance and engagement—even better retention.

These positives are no-brainers, but I wanted to dig a little deeper: When it comes to a business, what can cause serious disruption to a company’s culture?

My first thought? Change. If not handled correctly, change can turn culture on its head.

Embrace it or resist it, change isn’t going anywhere

Change is a two-sided coin.

On the one side, people accept – even embrace – change; they’re optimistic and hopeful it will lead to opportunity and growth. They believe change reflects flexibility and strength, and I don’t disagree. I often describe these people as “change navigators.”

But on the flip side are those who resist change at all costs. It interferes with routine, and people feel a loss of control and a fear of the unknown. Many believe it’s easier to say “no” than to say “yes” because change means uncertainty. And there’s truth to that as well. If they’re not able to adapt, there’s an unfortunate danger they’ll become “change casualties.”

Whether you embrace change or resist it, one thing I know is that change is inevitable and constant. In business, it isn’t any different: change in process, change in organizational structure, change in management, incentives, location, job roles, use of technology.

Your business can’t escape change. In fact, as a business leader you must often drive change. As Jack Welch frequently said, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” And change shares a connection with your culture.

So now what?

A cause and effect relationship

From my 30+ years of corporate experience, I know that culture impacts the effectiveness of an organization, with the power to either enable or hinder a company from reaching its goals. I know culture and organizational change must work in tandem; when one’s out of whack, it’s only a matter of time until the other feels the effects. Michael D. Watkins, a writer for the Harvard Business Review, shares:

“Culture is the organization’s immune system. It prevents ‘wrong thinking’ and ’wrong people’ from entering the organization in the first place. It says that organizational culture functions much like the human immune system in preventing viruses and bacteria from taking hold and damaging the body. The problem, of course, is that organizational immune systems also can attack agents of needed change, and this has important implications.”

As a business outcomes consulting firm, observing and truly understanding our partner’s culture is fundamental to our process. We’re painstakingly thorough because much of their success depends on implementing necessary organizational changes that will not throw culture to the wind, but instead strengthen it. Our process always begins with diagnosing the entire situation before taking any action. As consultants, we must be conscious of the cultural impact and capable of implementing change; there is no either/or.

Looking to leadership

As the saying goes, leaders are judged in times of adversity and change, not in times of success. In trying times employees look to their leadership team to forge ahead and to pave the way. Lori Williams, a well-known business consultant, writes for Business Simply Put that:

“Culture and leadership are interdependent. Leaders create the culture of the organization, and once established, the culture determines who will proceed to leadership. It is the responsibility of the leader to assess the culture and determine if it is supporting or hindering the company’s objectives.”

If leadership is supporting the company’s objectives and they are growing and meeting goals, then it’s business as usual. But if leadership is hindering objectives, the culture of the company will react and it’s only a matter of time before cracks in the surface are revealed. It’s when these cracks appear and change is on the horizon that companies must do their due diligence by looking at the big picture and discovering what changes will yield the best results before reinventing the wheel.

Culture and change are chain reactions; one will always affect the other. You’ve got to keep your eye on both. And when you nurture change navigators in your company, they will also nurture your culture.


Denise Kruse is the CEO and owner ofAdamsGabbert (AG), a catalyst for growth, a spark for innovation, and a facilitator of progress. Founded in 1999 and based in Overland Park, Kan., AG focuses on staffing + recruiting, technology services, and consulting—all designed to make business better for their clients. Share your thoughts on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter!

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