The challenge of promoting cultural change

26 Sep 2019

The modern business environment is fast-paced, rapidly shifting and complex. Successful organisations need to be open to rejuvenation through change in order to continue thriving.

The most difficult part of any business transformation is likely to be changing the organisation's culture. This is especially true in traditional professions, such as accountancy, where there is a genuine need to protect the qualities that made firms trusted auditors and advisers. So, what are the keys to driving cultural change?

Know your aims

Firstly, it is important that change is not enforced for change's sake. Successful cultural change will be driven by a compelling reason. Are business goals being reached? Is a firm attracting or retaining enough clients? Are talented employees leaving for greener pastures?

However, even where genuine reasons for change exist, some internal resistance is almost inevitable. Junior staff may fear for the future of their roles if those roles appear threatened by new technology or processes, while senior staff are naturally protective of their hard-earned positions.

Learn the lessons

Cultural change is happening across many industries, and it is possible for accountancy firms to learn valuable lessons from what has, or hasn't, worked in other sectors. Famous brands often embrace culture change as an essential element of their long-term strategies. However, these firms frequently base change around their core brand in order to maintain their corporate identity and gain buy-in from staff.

This can hold true in the accountancy sector too, despite many firms being cautious and traditional in their approach. For cultural change to succeed, accountancy firms need to be transparent about the motivation and goals for change, while ensuring essential core values are preserved.

Lead by example

A firm's leadership must embody the change of culture they are trying to implement. Culture change works best when leaders are passionate, clear, and consistent while communicating key messages and modelling the behaviours they want to see exhibited in their organisations. Regardless of the reason for change, leaders must demonstrate they believe in it and are committed to it, otherwise it will be difficult to convince others to join them on the journey.

Communication, communication, communication

Successful change requires effective communication. Employees will need to be teaching and training throughout the change process. The key is to have a clear and detailed plan, which should be broken down into small simple steps that can be swiftly and easily implemented.

Messages should be repeated throughout the organisation by communicating them again and again to small groups.

It is vital that communication remains a two-way process. Firms should promote a culture that encourages employees and others to report when they feel things are going wrong. This will offer companies a chance to get honest feedback, and it should be seen as an opportunity for improvement – irrespective of the nature of the deficiency exposed.

Involve the individual

Employee engagement is vital to business transformation. Individuals should be encouraged to take part in the process, contributing ideas, putting them into practice and teaching each other.

People often resent change when they have no involvement or say in how it should be implemented. Employees resist processes that they have no control over, so engagement and communication is essential.

Patience and persistence

Cultural change will not happen overnight. It is normal for businesses to take between one and three years to complete the process of cultural change and start realising the benefits of the programme they have undertaken. Patience and persistence will be essential attributes as the organisation follows a path that will often be winding and sometimes rocky before it reaches its destination.

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