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If there's one thing for certain in today's business world, it's change. Technological migration, global expansion and shifting business models are commonplace in today's economy, and harnessing these disruptive trends requires big ideas and strategic execution. Yet, one important aspect to consider as your company embraces large-scale overhauls remains widely disregarded (even while it sinks the best of us): company culture.

The "Iceberg" of Large-Scale Business Change

After years of experience with Fortune 200 companies in multiple countries, I've seen this type of mistake time and again. Leadership at the top is focused on the more obvious aspects of business change, like internal and external processes, technological migration and business model alterations take precedence. I've watched as executives' eyes get positively glassy when they think about how newer, more sophisticated offerings will propel their businesses forward. While these upgrades are important, people commonly forget that unless you've considered how your culture will support this desired future state, your plans are all but destined to fail.

Essentially, think of large-scale business change as an iceberg: You're focused on the pros and cons "above the water" that you can see, but don't readily consider the lack of cultural flexibility "below the water" that you can't see.

Ask the Right Questions

My consulting projects are usually for large-scale corporate alterations around sustainability and market viability. When I work with these clients, I start with questions designed to avoid the "iceberg." What does the plan mean for the business culture? What will emotionally, financially and passionately tie them to this new direction? If new talent is acquired, how will you manage the cultural divide between those who were with the company before your desired future state and those who come after it? In other words, have you thought about how HR will handle the news, if they're as committed to it as you are and if they're ready to execute?

Other questions to ask when it comes to cultural readiness are smaller, possibly sinister things: Do silos exist that impede communication or cultural readiness? Is your culture open to feedback from the bottom up? What is the plan to engage people around the change? Will you have cultural loyalists who would prefer doing things the old way, and will they derail progress?

Implement a Top-Down Cultural Assessment

The resolution to this is quite simple, but it's a process. Cultural assessments lead to clear communication plans and organizational readiness. They marry your values, culture, and internal networks while readying your management team to prepare the troops for the next battle plan. But this assessment has to be top-down—supported by leadership and consistently communicated to employees throughout your transition.

Bottom-line: You need to ensure you're culturally ready before implementing any large-scale changes to your business. A cultural assessment can benchmark your current culture against your ideal future state, showing you the aspects of the iceberg beneath your business plans. It could save you millions of dollars, and potentially catastrophic failure. And it's not soft-skill nonsense—your people are the means to carry you forward; they are the sure path to progress.

Photo: Creative Commons