by Jo Geraghty and Derek Bishop

Managing and leading culture change


Change won’t happen unless the conditions for change have been created.

Now that the way forward is clear, it is time for the CEO and the leadership team to start to guide the organisation through change. Here again, success or failure will depend on the way in which that change is managed. When implementing vision and strategy, CEOs should deploy a three-layered approach, encompassing communication, delegation and mobilisation. Far too many good ideas fall by the wayside at this final stage, due to their being lost in translation. It is a bit like the old game of Chinese whispers. Every step away from the CEO leads to the strategy being filtered through layers of time constraints, budgets and employee abilities, until what emerges is at best a poor shadow of the original idea.

Standing up and lecturing, imposing a new order without explanation or guidance, will have no effect. The solution is for leaders to take the time to engage change advocates. These may be team leaders or leaders without titles, but time has to be taken to explain the need for change and to engage their enthusiasm for and understanding of the new beliefs and behaviours expected within the organisation.

Middle management

One of the hardest tasks can be the mobilisation of middle management. Taking employees on the journey with you means engaging their hearts as well as their minds. This effectively requires a degree of ‘selling’ the ideas to employees; making it clear what is required of them as well as what they will gain from adopting new practices and ideas. Often overburdened by work and budget issues, middle management can be instinctively reluctant to face up to and embrace change. Success here will come through effective planning and personnel management, alongside a degree of empathy. Changes inevitably require an initial investment in time and resources and managers who acknowledge this at the outset and plan accordingly are more likely to carry staff with them.

Executive teams which have taken the time to consult these individuals as part of the value-setting process will have already started the conversion process. Now they have to consolidate that position, taking time to explain, to guide, to enthuse. Some will get the change instantly; others may take longer to convince. There may even be some who are so entrenched in their existing viewpoints that, by mutual consent, they may have to be left to seek alternative employment.

Why is this important? Well the CEO and the leadership team will need to lead the change, but ultimately it is the advocates for change throughout the organisation who will have the greatest influence on success or otherwise.

  • They are the team leaders who have to learn to work together in new ways.
  • They are the leaders without portfolio who, by their very nature, will persuade others to act in new ways.
  • They are the HR or accounts or IT people who will take the leadership intentions and devise new processes and procedures to translate them into action.

This leads us onwards then to the next step in the process, embedding cultural change.