Culture and change: The impact of processes and systems on change - HR Future helps people prepare for the Future of Work and is South Africa's leading print, digital and online Human Resources magazine.

Culture and change: The impact of processes and systems on change


Your company is going through vital change in order to keep up in the rat race. In order to make the change lasting, effective and positive, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Putting too many systems and processes in place will limit your quest for change, it can actually disempower, disengage and demotivate your employees or team. Like the iceberg model, there is more below the line when it comes to change than above the line. Too many systems and processes can slow down or diminish the change you are looking for.

Systems and processes are equal to the equipment used in the cheese making process.

Let’s make use of a metaphor to put all the pieces together. Change is like producing cheese. You have a final product, you have basic ingredients, the cheese maker, equipment, tools and a recipe.

It is top priority to ensure the equipment is clean and sterilised before any cheese is made. You can have the best ingredients, but if your equipment is not clean, you will find bad bacteria from the equipment infiltrating your cheese. Some cheeses only require minimal equipment, but other types of cheese require a combination of many pieces of equipment and some require complicated equipment.

The equipment required depends on the final product and the recipe. Most of the time the cheese maker makes use of measuring equipment for the temperature or pH throughout the process. Too much of a good thing is not good in cheese making – too much salt, too much heat, too long. All of this depends on the equipment being used. If the equipment is complicated and too cumbersome, it will spoil the final product.

In the same way one should investigate your systems and processes in your organisation. Top priority should be to sterilise and clean up the processes. Sometimes technology can help to simplify a process or system, other times it makes it more cumbersome. Look critically at your systems and processes and listen to your employees, they work with the systems every day. They should know. Some people will become totally disengaged if the system has too much red tape and bureaucracy woven into it. Governance is important, but make sure it is sensible governance.

Look at safety statistics. When you give incentives to groups to lower their RCR (Recordable Case Rate) for example, people stop reporting. This creates the problem that you will no longer catch bad behaviour, resulting in a false measurement and sense of security. It is important to measure RCR and to get the numbers down, but if you start to incentivise the reporting of the actions prior to RCR – incidents, behaviours and observations - you motivate people to share, observe, and change behaviours. THAT will lead to the REAL RCR numbers being lowered.

I saw this implemented at a capital mega-project I worked on. They had minimal safety incidents even though their recorded observations were very high amidst smaller projects in the same company having more and more serious incidents. This principle of measuring the right things has proven itself over and over again to be valuable and to support positive change in culture.

It is important to ask yourself: What in your structure and processes is preventing change? Engage employees to identify and propose solutions, and implement agreed upon changes. Do not allow a culture of protecting the holy grail of systems and processes. Some systems are someone’s pet project and they do not want to let go of it. If it happens to be a powerful manager in the company it becomes impossible to change, even though the system adds no or little value. Find the courage to tackle what needs to be tackled.

You can change the culture and people as much as you want, but if you don’t tackle these critical processes and systems, you will fail to implement change.

You may be the best leader, employ the best people with the best attitudes, but if you measure incorrectly and use the wrong systems and processes, all your efforts are nullified.

This is even more pronounced when you work with knowledge workers who are highly qualified. They can become disengaged in the face of excessive systems and processes which seem to be more highly regarded than their intellect.

Find a winning recipe and follow it. The bad news is: There isn’t a standard recipe for change. The recipe is different in every organisation and for every type of change required.

Just like every type of cheese has a different recipe. It is crucial to sit with each organisation and custom make a change programme for their special needs.

The good news is that there are a few basic principles that form the basis of the recipe.

The recipe should include the following aspects:

1. The manager. What changes must the manager make to his or her behaviour in the bigger scheme of things? Executive Coaching is a great tool to assist the manager to grow in the area he or she needs the most.

2. The employees. Spend as much time as possible understanding what are the one or two things that might block change and what are the one or two behaviours or mind sets that are limiting change. Middle management and employee coaching can be very valuable to assist with gaining insight. Team coaching can also highlight a few things and in parallel lift morale.

3. Systems and processes: Clean up and eliminate all unnecessary steps limiting growth and efficiency.

4. Find a few “long hanging fruit” that support the larger culture. Tackle one at a time. Then you can start to tackle the more complex behaviours. Remember, not all habits from the previous culture must be lost.

5. Decide wisely on rewards, but always ensure that boundaries are protected.

6. Take baby steps. Consider affirmations, vision boards, weekly focus areas, and other shared thinking exercises.

7. Get an authentic, trustworthy consultant who has your best interests at heart to assist with the core issues and practical plans to overcome it.

8. Follow a plan chronological. Do not jump in and do all steps immediately and in parallel. Plan it out logically, first things first.

All the best on your change journey.

Wilmien Davis is a Member of the International Coach Federation (ICF).

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