The past couple of years have witnessed a tremendous increase in company reorganization programs due to the accelerated speed of change. Business leaders have rushed to cope with the circumstances of the fourth industrial revolution priding themselves on their ability to course-correct during times of uncertainty.

However, despite the many efforts that have been placed into these transformation programs, research suggests that around 70% have failed to achieve their goals. While that may seem like a big number, the missing steps to get back on track are but a few.

Here are 4 main reasons why culture transformations fail based on insights from our subject matter experts:

Absence of the great “WHY”

Simon Sinek, author of “Start With Why”, speaks of how important it is that leaders communicate the “Why” to people. Any successful transformation has to begin with conviction; whether it is conviction in the employees’ ability to drive positive change or in the cause behind the culture transformation. Building employees’ aspirations towards something greater is a mindset shift that allows them to believe that a cultural transformation is possible and is in everyone’s benefit. Storytelling is one method can be implemented to elaborate on the “Why” of transformation. If you tell a story that connects employees to the change you would like to see, the transformation will be more like to succeed.

Any effort made, decision taken or journey sought by the leaders of the company, should be paralleled with a clear “Why” that everybody can relate to and ultimately would believe in. Philosophically and psychologically, “Why” is the question that gives people comfort only when they have an answer to it. As Patrick Sweet puts it: “Knowing ‘Why’ is the single most important question you can ask to drive a business towards being the best it can be.”

Lonely at the Top

Despite the fact that most transformation decisions are made at the top, it is quite rare to witness leaders aligned and working hand in hand towards the new objectives. On the contrary, you will often notice that resistance and misalignment exist within the very high levels in the organization. Typical challenges surface when leaders do not agree on how they are going to implement the change. If leaders are not completely aligned, employees will ultimately receive mixed messages and begin to lose faith in the mission.

Addressing this issue of alignment will significantly enhance the chances of success and ultimately the business performance. This can be done through various steps such as:

  • First and foremost, have a unified “Why”: All the leaders should be telling the same story.
  • Ask what it means to have a culture that supports this “Why”.
  • Decide on a common vision: This will help map the results that should to be attained.
  • Picture what winning will look like: What will you be celebrating in the future?
  • Manage accountability on all initiatives: Who should be accountable? Who should be informed?
  • Remember to conduct frequent check-ins: this is an important method in staying agile and responding to challenges as they arise throughout the process.

Some Choose Behavioral Transformation over Full-Fledge Culture Transformation

As many struggle to understand what culture is or how to go about covering all the dimensions of culture, leaders tend to focus on picking certain behaviors that they think should be changed to serve a certain business goal.

Culture Transformation is rather a holistic approach that looks at all the interrelated elements of an organization. The image of the culture iceberg is used in system thinking to show how organizations tend to overlook the bottom layers of the iceberg or sometimes focus on one piece in a cluster while forgetting about all the others. Taking a more holistic and extensive approach to culture transformation will more likely result in significant and sustainable improvement across the years.

Focusing on Customer Experience and Ignoring the Employee Experience

While transforming culture, organizations stay keen on how to satisfy their customers, maintain their loyalty and win the unsatisfied ones over from their competitors.

In the process, organizations often discount the experience of their own employees who will ultimately deliver the service and serve those customers. Some organizations mistakenly think that digital transformation is a solution that will hit two birds with one stone, but recent studies have shown that digital transformation initiatives still need to take the human element into consideration because digitalization has not yet made the people obsolete.

Whether at the scale of the whole organization or at a team level, supporting employees will remain a priority. Employee engagement and talent retention are ever-evolving forces that are an essential part of driving change. Employee expectations from the companies are constantly changing, and they have more say in the value (and values) that comes with being employed at an organization. As the economy recovers, and as we shift more and more towards agile ways of working, employee experience will be able to make or break the future of an organization’s culture.

If you want to successfully transform your culture, a comprehensive approach is the right path. Any transformation is an organization-wide endeavor. Everyone needs to participate, whether talent or leadership. And every characteristic of the business should be reinvented in a matter that fits the “Why”, the shared vision and the wins you foresee.

However, not everything can be achieved simultaneously. A systematic methodology is key. Start with the “Why”, make sure your top leaders are aligned, take employee experience into account and always remember that culture transformation is holistic and not centered on one element only.

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