When implementing change, culture plays a pivotal role in how we communicate, train for, and reinforce the changes that are being made. Organizational culture is a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs, which governs how people behave in the workplace. Because these shared values have a strong influence on the people in the organization — dictating how they dress, act, and perform their jobs — taking culture into account is critical to any change effort.
However, culture manifests itself differently in various parts of an organization. This especially rings true in organizations that are geographically dispersed or operationally siloed, where several variations of the culture may be present. These micro-cultures bear the marks of the broader company culture, but also feature their own sets of norms, beliefs, and behaviors based on their unique experience and surroundings.
Micro-cultures are expressed in a variety of ways, including varying definitions of the same terminology, different work practices and processes, and diverse attitudes toward leadership or other parts of the organization. Employees can be part of several micro-cultures simultaneously. For example, a member of the project management team who works in a field office may demonstrate behaviors of both sub-groups — approaching her work with the collaborative spirit of the project management team, but also feeling a skepticism toward corporate like her colleagues in the field office.
While micro-cultures add a layer of complexity to your change initiative, they also present an opportunity to interact with your employees in new ways to earn their buy-in by using these strategies:
1. Get the lay of the land
Be sure to meet with representatives from various groups to better understand how the change you’re implementing will impact each specific department or field office. Use this opportunity to also learn about the cultural norms for that group. Do they prefer email or in-person updates? How have they responded to previous change efforts? Do they have unique schedule or technology requirements that you need to accommodate during training or go-live?
2. Speak the same language
Applying a team’s vernacular into change communications geared for that team can help build credibility and understanding among employees and avoid the us vs. them narratives.
3. Find (the right) ambassadors
While leadership engagement is a key element of any successful project, having a leadership position doesn’t always equate to effective support. Some leaders can undermine a change effort. For example, if a leader is new and still building credibility and trust with his/her team, or has a less than stellar reputation amongst employees, that person may not be the right messenger for the change.
Look for influencers and cultural leaders within the organization who will serve as your ambassadors. They may be frontline employees with seniority or have a solid reputation among peers. Involve these employees in solution development and seek their support with introducing the change to their peers.
4. Connect the dots
Find opportunities to build relationships and an understanding between different groups that are geographically dispersed or who don’t normally get to interact. Knowing who to reach out to across micro-cultures is key to building familiarity and a sense of shared ownership around the changes that are taking place. Involving employees, creating opportunities for interaction with other employees, and developing solutions together builds trust and helps with adoption.
5. Leave room for personalization
Instead of providing a rigid template, develop change tools in a way that allows the sponsors and leaders a chance to tailor them for a group and make them their own.
6. Start slow, but stay nimble
Moving fast in a change-resistant environment can backfire, changes won’t stick and employees will become more resistant — or worse, ambivalent — to future changes. Ease everyone into the change by providing ample opportunities for discussion and feedback, but be ready to adapt if you see signs that people are ready to move faster.