When it comes to change management, culture sometimes eats strategy for breakfast

21st Century organisations are under constant pressure to evolve. They are beset by a number of forces that demand they change constantly. These include the need to restructure the organisation, adapt to new technologies, respond to competitors and changes in the economy and legislative environment. Inevitably, this constant need to change affects both people and the built environment in very profound ways. However, according to a study of Culture and Change Management published by the Katzenbach Center, only around half of all transformation initiatives meet their objects over time. Among the biggest obstacles to successful change management cited by the study is change fatigue, which is characterised by a lack of empathy and a widespread failure to engage with the change process.

Overcoming this barrier is a particular challenge for managers as they seek to motivate people and drive change. Leaders must be aware of all the tools at their disposal when it comes to engaging everybody involved in the change management process. In particular, using culture to give people a sense of ownership of the process and create the foundations of the new form of the organisation.


Change management or change leadership?

Effective change management depends in large measure on the ability to impose structure and order with regard to project management, timelines, budgets and so on.

Change leadership on the other hand is somewhat more nuanced but no less important.  It empowers people to work together within the change management process to define the vision and shape the transformation of the organisation. This reduces the risks involved because it creates a more holistic solution that has more chance of buy-in from stakeholders.

In turn, there are four key phases of change leadership.



The first step is to evaluate what you want to achieve and identify the most important areas for improvement and responsiveness. This involves identifying those areas in which improvements can be made to improve productivity, wellbeing or efficiency for example then focusing on the opportunities that arise so that people can see how change will benefit them and the organisation.

Self-awareness and honesty will define the success of this phase as you develop an awareness of the scope, patterns of behaviour, attitudes and capacity for people to embrace change. Commitment to the change process is invariably strengthened by communicating a vision of where you expect to end up. According to a study from Towers Watson, companies that use a dedicated team to communicate internally are 4.5 times more likely to see a successful end result to their change management programme.

Conducting a Gap Analysis can often highlight to improve outcomes and set goals. This might involve benchmarking against other organisations or seeking out examples of best practice.

Referencing industry standards through best practices or benchmarking provides a basis of comparison to assess the current performance relative to standards or expectations. Similarly appraising key performance indicators can help the organisation to better define goals, allocate resources, set expectations and attain results.



A clear and detailed vision of what the organisation is setting out to achieve will vastly improve the chances that people will buy into its objectives. The vision should consist of a fixed and stable identity aligned to the organisation’s values and goals.

This in turn is closely linked to the organisation’s culture. A recent study from PWC highlights the need for a more culture-oriented approach to change. Its findings suggest there are strong correlations between the success of change programmes and whether or not culture was leveraged in the process. Organisational culture is so strongly aligned to values and goals that the PWC research established how cultural factors were at least twice as likely to have played a role in successful change management processes.

It suggests ways in which culture can be leveraged to drive change including by modelling solutions that reflect key attributes of the organisation’s core values and vision, as laid out as for example in this chart, based on research from Cornell University.


Gaining momentum

One of the best ways to engage stakeholders and build momentum with a change management programme is to inculcate a problem solving culture. This in turn can rely on the ability to appeal to everybody’s best and mutual interests to foster collaborative approaches to meeting challenges. Although the core objectives might be set at senior management level, problem solving should be an issue for everybody.  The aim should be to manage by influence rather than control to ensure everybody buys in to the process and knows their input is valued.



Implementing the change management initiative is focussed on an action plan and timeline, with key objectives clearly set for various stages. There must be a constant process of communication and it must be bottom up just as much as top down.

Internal communications might be based around a branded initiative with its own website, news structures, social media and regular meetings. Constant feedback ensures that the change management process develops in response to the progress of the project and as new information and ideas arise. Maintaining this commitment to stay on course must be cultivated.

The final stage is to evaluate whether goals have been met (or ideally exceeded) and if not, to make any changes that are necessary and learn lessons for future strategic decision making.



  1. https://www.strategyand.pwc.com/global/home/what-we-think/reports-white-papers/article-display/cultures-role-organizational-change
  2. https://www.towerswatson.com/en-US/Insights/IC-Types/Survey-Research-esults/2013/12/2013-2014-change-and-communication-roi-study
  3. From the notes of ILRS509 Developing an Agenda for Change, Cornell University
  4. https://www.strategyand.pwc.com/global/home/what_we_do/services/ocl/culture-and-change


Gary-Chandler-253x300Gary Chandler is the CEO of office design and fit-out firm Area