Speakers and committee members from the Imperial Women's Network Changes in organisational culture event

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‘Culture trumps everything’ was the resounding message from the Imperial Women’s Network panel exploring ‘Changes in Organisational Culture’. Our panel of experts provided a well-balanced outlook on why the culture of an organisation is key to success and how to address changes to culture in a positive and effective way.

Impact of digital 

Nicola Millard, Principal Innovation Partner, BT, began the discussion focusing on productivity in the digital age and the future of a diverse and innovative workforce. She looked at how office space is becoming more adaptable, and approaches to the traditional work structure are more flexible. Technology has allowed for greater connectivity and collaboration, but her message was that culture must underpin this with trust, support and continued investment in upskilling: “Technology potentially untethers us, as long as culture doesn’t hold us back.”

Factors for success

Suzanne White, Director of Organisational Transformation, Deloitte, discussed the behaviour shift in the banking industry over the last few decades, and how this has led to cultural transformation in the sector. She outlined the issues that need to be addressed for successful transformation:

  • Behaviours – you need to tackle the elephants in the room before you can move forward and this needs to be done with c-suite involvement
  • Build transparency and trust
  • Be inclusive and have a holistic approach

Suzanne also explored the best way to measure culture. Ask yourself: What is the vision? Are there key moments in the organisational history that you can learn from? What existing metrics do you have? What are the current conditions and how will they support success? Do you have local leadership to help drive change? And how can you leverage internal talent?

Employees and leaders must all share the same beliefs, values, and behaviours to drive change. This includes both the processes and decision-making, as well as the people-focused issues of reward and recognition, stories and symbols.

Inspiring change

‘Don’t lead change, inspire a movement’, was the advice from Jill Williams, Occupational Psychologist and Talent Consultant, Partner, Honne. Her focus was on how to bring human principles to the heart of an organisation. Organisational change can often focus on what people don’t have, or the typology of becoming ‘innovative’, ‘futuristic’ ‘dynamic’. Instead the focus should be on the positives of the organisation and its employees. Jill’s advice about creating a meaningful culture focuses on four conditions:

  1. Psychological safely and trust – allow people to feel trusted enough to take risks and speak out
  2. Meaning and purpose – help people connect with their work and align with personal values
  3. Belonging – promote deep, purposeful relationships which foster open and challenging dialogue
  4. Growth mind-set –  push people to learn from their mistakes and promote professional curiosity

It is important to put emphasis on emotional and behavioural outcomes, not only the measurable and tangibles ones when designing culture strategies. Incorporate stories, symbols and shared meaning into your vision to effectively mobilise people and create emotional buy-in. Co-design your vision with your employees with support from the top-level, because top-down enforcement will not be effective. Tap into key people and influencers in the business and create an open dialogue.

Culture and strategy 

Rachael Brassey, People Transformation Lead in Defence, PA Consulting, discussed why culture is key to the critical delivery of strategy and results of an organisation. To effectively review the culture you need to look at what is going on below the surface. What are the unspoken issues that need to be addressed? Rachael suggested a business case for each cultural change to show the return on investment. She recognised that implementation may take some time and involve nudge tactics to embed changes, but that taking small steps to affect sustained change is crucial.

Audience Q&A

The panel were then asked questions by the audience of Imperial alumni, students and guests, and were joined by Clare Roberts, Managing Consultant, Culture Change and Leadership, PA Consulting and chaired by May Huang, Director at Edolosophy International Limited.

The panel were asked how you know when cultural change is required. They agreed it needs to be something that is continuously evolving – do not leave it until there’s a burning platform! Listen and respond to your employees, resolve and evolve, with everyone pulling in the same direction. There is no point enforcing policies, for example hot desking to create greater ‘collaboration’, if your employees are habitual and don’t want to!

Change doesn’t take place overnight, and there is a need for empathy and compassion as there is often fear of change. There is no perfect model for cultural change, it has to be tailor-made based on the people and the purpose of the organisation. However there are some consistencies around identity, vision, creating passion and effective processes that are relevant in any organisational review. And the importance of incremental change is also key – companies can’t afford not to innovate these days, but it doesn’t have to be big or expensive to contribute to change, just keep the dialogue going.

The Imperial Women’s Network is driven by Imperial College London and Business School alumni volunteers. The Imperial Women’s Network welcomes alumni and friends interested in advancing women’s leadership in business and host professional development and networking events regularly. 

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Celia Pearce

About Celia Pearce

Alumni Communications Executive
Celia is responsible for all the communications to Business School alumni and this includes the monthly newsletter, alumni profiles and features, alumni blogs, event marketing, the website and social media. Please contact Celia if you have any queries regarding communications to alumni of the Business School.