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Keep culture steady amid organisational change, says expert

Kieron O’Reilly tells HRNews about the practicalities of conducting an organisational culture review.

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  • Transcript

    A lot is talked about organisations undergoing cultural change but what about the equally difficult challenge of keeping a culture steady? So, if your business is going through a big change, how do you make sure you retain the best aspects of your shared assumptions, values, and common behaviours? That’s the subject of an interesting opinion piece that appeared last week in the Harvard Business Review by Rebecca Newton, an organisational and social psychologist. We’ll speak to a D&I specialist about how to implement the type of organisational culture review she is referring to.

    The article is called ‘Retaining the Best of Your Culture Amid Organizational Change’ and is based on the author’s 20 years’ experience of advising firms and leaders on cultural issues. She has 4 central messages, or golden rules, which are:

    1 Clarify what you want to keep (and act on it)
    2 Listen to your people’s concerns
    3 Know when you’re being nostalgic; and
    4 Marshal data

    She goes on: ‘Sometimes an organization’s culture may shift in unwanted ways that take time for leaders to recognize — and then it’s too late. Rather than trusting your gut about what’s going on, conduct a regular culture assessment to gather evidence on the lived experiences of employees across your organization.’

    We agree. She calls is a culture assessment, while we call it a culture review, but it’s essentially the same thing - a very useful exercise and something we have been doing with our clients on a regular basis for some time. For our clients, the work is done by Pinsent Masons’ D&I consultancy Brook Graham alongside the Equality Law team – so what does that work involve and has it been successful? To find out I caught up with Brook Graham’s Kieron O’Reilly:

    Kieron O’Reilly: “This is an approach that's relatively new for us because we're part of the Equality Law Team at Pinsent Masons. So, Brook Graham is the diversity and inclusion consultancy and the Equality Law Team are the lawyers. What we found is that where we bring those two things together, and we want to work to make change happen, that we needed a client to be operating from top down. So, in this example, what we're finding is that where people are working collectively - so from the board, right through all forms of leadership - where they have a driver to work together to make some of the changes they want to achieve for the good in their organisation, we're applying these two aspects to come up with a way that the organisation can achieve its aims across the organisation and it fits with all different parts of it from the board right down to, for example, in a recent case, a union. That convening power means that all of these parts of an organisation work together, and they work effectively on the same goal. What we're seeing is, within six months, some of the changes that a couple of organisations have already started this programme, have achieved things in a period that might have taken a year. So, it's that collective working together to achieve a goal that we're seeing as a bit of a breakthrough, really, in some of the aspects when it comes to achieving diversity and inclusion goals.”

    Joe Glavina: “Can you tell me about the work you’ve recently done with a client on this.”

    Kieron O’Reilly: “Yes, certainly. So, this is where we began with the board and we wanted to do a culture review and that's looking at the organisation from top down. That includes policy and process as well as people. So, we spent some time meeting with the organisation, getting to know it well, and then reported back to the board on what the organisation was from a cultural aspect, and how that fitted with its aim and its purpose and then from that, practical actions were selected. Each of those were then put into place at the different levels of the organisation. So, what was put in place to support unions, what was put in place to support employees across the organisation varied, but was tied to the same goal, same as the board. The board approved it and, as a result, we've now seen a bit of restructuring going on that's been positive for all. We've seen a lot of achievement towards the organisation's aims and its goals but, most importantly, we've seen the employee satisfaction survey has increased by nearly 32% and that's in a period of six months. Now that was specifically done because of this work, but it was a way of measuring the change. That's quite dramatic for doing a structural change, for doing an organisational development piece of work, at that level.”

    Joe Glavina: “In that case where did HR fit in?”  

    Kieron O’Reilly: “So, it was it was led by the chair of the board, it was led by the chief executive, and then the third person in the project team was the Head of HR because this is, essentially, about people and the systems and the process of the go round it support the people. So, HR had a very central function to understand what the cultural views were saying, to understand how that applied to the organisation and then to lead the policy changes they wanted to see to affect the outcomes they were trying to get. So, HR were one of the three central decision makers in this project.”

    Joe Glavina: “Given the lack of an HR presence in most boardrooms, I can see how this tool can help with that. Anything else to add, Kieron?”

    Kieron O’Reilly: “I think one of the greatest aspects of this work is that it connected the organisation in a way that may not have been done before, right from the board through to someone who's just started as an apprentice, because all of their voices came together, they all had a representative connection, and they're all working towards the same goal. So, it aligned people to work collectively and it's quite an impressive way of seeing people come together and understanding what they're trying to achieve through their own business or their organisation and I think that was quite powerful.”

    If you would like to know more about Organisational Culture Reviews please do contact Kieron – his details are there on the screen for you – or you can contact your usual Pinsent Masons’ adviser. Meanwhile, if you would like to read that article in the Harvard Business Review you can: ‘Retaining the Best of Your Culture Amid Organizational Change’ and we’ve put a link to it in the transcript of this programme for you.


    - Link to Harvard Business Review article: ‘Retaining the Best of Your Culture Amid Organizational Change’

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