The high road to culture transformation

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LONDON, March 2018 — The Harvard Business Review is easy to appreciate. (Even when it costs you CHF 27.50 in an airport.) But it can have you shouting at its unassuming pages too.

This month’s edition is focused on culture. Which is timely enough. A quick survey of annual reports shows that an increasing number of large, complex businesses are interested in their culture. It’s widely recognised now as a potential source of competitive advantage. And one that is largely untapped too.

“Corporate culture,” or “organisational culture” as we prefer it, is regularly discussed at all levels in companies. It is credited with many good, often self-congratulatory things. “We have an open and accepting culture.” And it is often used as a crutch to support confirmation bias or to normalise conservatism. “We just don’t have a culture of flexible working.”

In those kind of conversations you will see heads nodding as everyone agrees: Yes, our culture is like that.

However, in the decades we have been talking to big, complex and international businesses about culture we have seen little or no overlap or consensus on what organisational culture is. No two businesses see it the same way. Few management consultancies will say they can and have addressed it in a consistent or identifiable way.

Culture is the Great And Powerful Oz. Or the Higgs Boson particle. Or the lost city of Atlantis. It is widely believed to be “a thing” with important and awesome powers. But few know what it actually is… or even where to find it.

We believe we have some answers.

How to drive culture transformation

Where Able and How has found real success with businesses in recent times is around four complementary ideas:


  1. Know what you want

There needs to be enthusiasm and clarity around what the aspired culture is (and how that’s different to existing culture) in order for momentum to be generated.


  1. Identify behaviours

That aspiration needs to be translated into every day actions, that anyone in the organisation can observe and work to, in order for people to get involved.


  1. Hardwire it

Those behaviours need to be hardwired in everyday systems and processes in order for the culture to be activated beyond the individual, at an institutional level.


  1. Own it

Proof-points of the culture in action need to be reinforced through regular leadership stories in order for people in the organisation to feel they are culture-ready.


Importantly we see the process of successful culture change — like all successful organisational change — is about appreciating what you have and then adjusting it to what you may need. It’s a participative and proactive process, not one of judging or compartmentalising.

Organisational culture is a very exciting way to help support strategy and deliver greater competitive advantage. Businesses that are going to tackle it should aim to do the best possible job. Be thorough, be organised and ensure it has a real impact.

Culture is an increasingly compelling road to building competitive advantage. As value has been wrung out of other business processes.

To succeed organisations must plan and run culture transformation effectively. Focus on the right stuff. Deliver real value.

Where we see precious time and resources lost is when the dead ends and scenic routes along the way prove too attractive.



(To see our Culture Transformation case studies or hear more about our unique and proven approach… just get in touch.)

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