Sustainable Change is Strategic – Creating a Culture of Adaptability
An organization that can change can remain competitive. Conversely, an organization that can’t change will become obsolete over time. That is the simplest description of change as a tool – it can keep companies competitive. An organization’s culture can be its biggest strategic advantage. To change means to become different. An organization that not only can change, but change consistently, has created a sustainable competitive advantage. The question then becomes, how does an organization create this sustainable competitive advantage?
The answer is simple – Adaptability. Adaptability is the process of becoming adjusted to new conditions. If a company wants to become different, then its effectiveness at becoming different depends on its ability to adjust to new conditions. Companies that adapt better and more quickly perform better. Companies that can repeatedly adapt are consistently gaining competitive advantages. Essentially, change is only as effective as an organization’s culture is adaptable to change, and the more adaptable a company is to change the more sustainable their competitive advantage is.
Creating an organizational culture that encourages change will help an organization adjust more quickly to threats and opportunities. Unfortunately, organizational cultures are often firmly rooted in familiar processes, ideals, and behaviors. These cultural familiarities can be unlocked by adjusting how we look at organizational cultures.
According to Steve Denning, organizational culture can be described as “an interlocking set of goals, roles, processes, values, communications practices, attitudes and assumptions” that reinforce each other such that changing one aspect has very little lasting impact. Denning equates changing an organization’s culture to a mind game that starts with its leaders. If the change does not start with the organizational leaders, a company will very likely fall back on old cultural habits, and any change will be temporary.
Larry Hrebiniak, a Professor of Management at Wharton, suggests that to change an organization’s culture permanently, it is best not to focus directly on changing the culture itself. Instead, focus on changing the core structural aspects of an organization that lock a culture in place. This perspective recognizes that culture, employee behaviors, and performance are all heavily intertwined. To change the direction of influence between these three organizational components to increase an organization’s adaptability, you should focus on changing the four factors and conditions that affect organizational culture: 1) structure and processes, 2) people, 3) incentives, and 4) changing and enforcing controls.
Steps to Sustainability
The following are some steps that can lead to creating an organization that can thrive on change because it is highly adaptable to change. This comes from simultaneously changing the four factors of an organization’s culture we previously mentioned so that the change process can be continuous and therefore, sustainable.
Step 1: People. The people part primary includes the leaders of the organization. Organizational leaders need to develop a clear vision of where the organization is going and a map of how the organization will reach this vison (i.e. strategic plan). They need to define any new roles, duties, and responsibilities brought about because of change. Once the leaders have established a clear vision, they should look for and support people in the company that have perspectives and behaviors already aligned with the new vision.
Step 2: Processes. New processes should quickly be developed and put in place that support and reinforce the new strategy. This also includes eliminating obsolete and redundant processes and tools. It is good to introduce the concept of lean management at this point; specifically continuous improvement methods.
Step 3: Incentives. Readjust and implement employee incentives that motivate/support desired behaviors. Significant thought should be placed in this section. It is critical that the incentives are strategic because they will help to keep old, familiar, behaviors from popping back up.
Step 4: Enforcing controls for new processes. It is a good exercise for organizational leaders to identify the current and desired employee behaviors. Key critical behaviors that will support the goal of a desired change should be emphasized by integrating a combination of formal approaches and informal interactions. In their article ‘Cultural Change That Sticks’, Katzenback, Steffen, and Kronley state that when focusing on shifting a few critical employee behaviors, a natural inclination to reinforce these behaviors among employees will occur which will help the organization have sustained results from the change.
Megan Miller is a business writer at Aepiphanni, specializing in the fields of marketing, organizational development, and entrepreneurial strategy development. She has an MBA and a Doctorate of Business with a focus on International Business from Liberty University. Megan is currently active in article publications focusing on knowledge management in small and medium-sized businesses. She researches the topics of entrepreneurial cognition, international entrepreneurship, environmental scanning and knowledge acquisition processes of business leaders.
Megan’s professional goals are to help small and medium-sized businesses become established and increase their competitive ability as a means for improving local and regional economies on a global scale. Megan has a passion for teaching and training young women to become successful in achieving their career goals. She currently works with the Wellspring Living Organization as a volunteer in their Women’s Academy to help educate women coming out of human trafficking and domestic violence lifestyles. She also enjoys traveling and experiencing other cultures with a particular affinity for Ireland and Italy.
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