There are plenty of articles that define culture, explain what a high performance culture looks like and gives angles on creating one. But here, we want to provide direction for anyone tasked with creating culture change. It is assumed you understand what culture is, you have decided to make a change and you want to know how to successfully implement a culture change.

To successfully change culture, there are some prerequisites to success. These include change clarity, change commitment, change capacity, change capability and change effectiveness, which are needed to successfully accomplish the culture change. The purpose of evaluating the presence of these prerequisites is to prevent obstacles that would otherwise delay or stymie the culture change.

Think of these culture change prerequisites as due diligence for culture change success. Just as you perform due diligence before any significant business transaction, it’s critical to perform due diligence in preparation for culture change.

Culture change prerequisites

  • Change clarity

To be successful, change must be understood and valued. That’s impossible if the change cannot be explained clearly. There are two crucial components to change clarity:

1. Definition of Success: This is also referred to as a vision. Unfortunately, visions can be dull, flat and missing critical components. A multi-dimensional definition of success provides clarity about the rules of the game, who is playing and how we win. It’s the Future in 3D. This answers the question, “What does success look like?”

2. Case for Change: It is essential that the reason for change is fully understood by the people undergoing it. Understanding that increases the motivation to change and reduces resistance because the reason for the change is clear. Therefore, the change explanation must be both relevant and meaningful. It helps people understand how it connects to them personally and to their view of the organization. The case for change answers the question, “why?”

  • Change commitment

Culture change begins at the top. There must be courageous leaders willing to do whatever it takes to be successful. Culture is a leadership issue and it cannot be delegated. Without strong leadership, culture change will sputter and burn out. Commitment is needed in abundant quantities in order to overcome the change hurdles, pockets of resistance and status quo malaise. It takes time to do culture change well. In this instant society, the commitment to long term change fades over time.

  • Change capacity

Change saturation is a common cause of organizational dysfunction and change failure. Terrific, talented people reach their capacity to absorb change and they check out. Every person has their own “change sponge” that has a maximum amount of absorption. Both personal and professional changes decrease capacity. When this occurs, employees become disengaged. All the leadership commitment, compelling cases for change and brilliant strategies in the world are irrelevant if you do not assess and manage change capacity.

  • Change capability

How well does the organization adapt to change? Do managers and leaders have the skills to effectively communicate, model and lead change? Change capability is the organization’s ability to do what’s needed for the change to be embraced and the intended results delivered. A McKinsey study of 40 projects compared expected and actual returns on investment to change capability, and the researchers determined there is a direct correlation between the two. Programs with above average change capability realized 143% of expected value while programs with below average capability realized just 35%.

  • Change effectiveness

This is the historical experience of change within the organization. Has there been a pattern of success in previous change initiatives? Change effectiveness is about evaluating the organizational memory for the past successes and failures of change in order to learn from them. It’s about identifying what’s unique and good about the organization that can be leveraged in the context of the culture change.

Take the quiz below to find out if your organization is ready for a culture change. 

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One of the first steps to preparing for successful culture change is to assess the sufficiency of change clarity, change commitment, change capacity, change capability and change effectiveness. In addition to the questions listed above, there are formal assessments that can be used to determine the organization’s readiness for change.

The benefit of determining readiness for culture change is that the prerequisites to success can be worked on and improved prior to undertaking a doomed change.

As a world class expert in organizational culture and change, I advise CEOs, directors and executive teams throughout the world to rapidly accelerate strategic outcomes. In addition to my consulting work, I am the architect of multiple leadership communities including Women in Change, Leadership Uncorked and Leadership: Chicago. These communities are dedicated to leaders and learners who profit from passionately living out their purpose, making the most of their potential while creating workplaces of flourishing.

As a world class expert in organizational culture and change, I advise CEOs, directors and executive teams throughout the world to rapidly accelerate strategic outcomes. In addition to my consulting work, I am the architect of multiple leadership communities including Women in Change, Leadership Uncorked and Leadership: Chicago. These communities are dedicated to leaders and learners who profit from passionately living out their purpose, making the most of their potential while creating workplaces of flourishing.

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