We conducted a Q&A interview with Richie Maddock, Founding Director of Lynchpin and Associates Ltd, regarding workplace culture and transformation.
Could you introduce yourself and what you do?
Towards the end of my full 22-year service in the British Army, I worked on a tri-service, multi-national team to develop joint working practices and processes. As part of the requirements of the role, I was trained and developed in a range of areas from quality management (EFQM) and business process engineering, to customer experience and employee performance management. What I quickly realised was the importance of culture when it comes to driving transformation and change and I brought this together with everything else. On leaving the army, I established the first Organisational Development function for a large local authority. It contained a range of skills not in the traditional HR mould. During the 10 years that I led that function, I heard Australian, Steve Simpson, speak about globally acclaimed workplace culture development concept he had created known as Unwritten Ground Rules (UGRs). I was absolutely blown away by how powerful and effective it was. I have subsequently worked with and been mentored by Steve and have become his sole UK based partner. Along with my business partner Anne Garrod, I founded Lynchpin Solutions Consultancy in 2011 with its aim to provide a balanced approach to transformation and change planning – putting workplace culture at the heart of everything using the UGRs concept. It is vital that culture and transformation are fully entwined.
Culture is said to be the key to successful organisations, but why is that?
An organisations culture is the only truly unique thing about it. Processes can be copied, and products can be ‘similar’, culture however is totally within your control and cannot ever be replicated or copied from others. It defines your organisation and the profile of your brand. It determines your reputation as an employer and within the market you operate in. Culture drives individual behaviours with everybody associated with your organisation and, whatever you do as an organisation, is dependent on the culture that exists. It follows that a high-performing organisation has a positive workplace culture.
So, at the crux of it culture is all about behaviour, so how can you build behaviours like agility and collaboration?
It is important when we talk about behaviours, that we are clear about separating the cultural characteristics that are required from the detail of the specific ‘mindset’ or behaviours needed to achieve them. For collaboration, for example, this is a cultural characteristic needed for success, but it is important to break that down into the specific component parts where a focus on behaviour and mindset can be given. For successful collaboration, these behaviours can be focused on three areas:
- Equity – recognition that each partner has a contribution and a voice when it comes to making decisions
- Transparency – openness and willingness to share information and knowledge
- Mutual Benefit – accepting that every partner probably has their own objectives to deliver over and above the common themes and the relationship operates as best it can, for the benefit of all parties
If collaboration is a requirement of your successful transformation, then the necessary management, processes, policies, technology and learning can be put in place to enable those specific behaviours to take shape and grow. Eventually, the aim is for those to be happening naturally once embedded. Being clear and concise about the behavioural requirements is key and those three elements can be measured and managed accordingly to further enhance its sustainability. It is a similar solution for agility. There is a raft of dimensions that make up that cultural characteristic. Once you have determined what agility really means for you, then you must specifically define it and focus on each of those components
Workplace culture is often left to HR, but is this necessarily the right place for it?
I think this is an interesting point, and one that I know is much debated. There is total consensus that culture is the responsibility of everyone but particularly the leadership of an organisation. However, the reality is that delegation, at least to oversee activities, exists in virtually every organisation and in that context culture is often left to HR due to the people focussed nature. I have witnessed huge advantages and significant disadvantages of culture being left to HR but that to me is not the real issue. Culture requires leadership to lead in a manner and style that reflects the aspirational culture and the whole ‘mechanics’ of the organisation needs to be continually focused on evolving it on a daily basis. Ensuring that the ‘dominant norms’ are positively contributing to an organisations culture is not something that can be siloed within a department or a programme of work with a given time frame. I believe that culture should be the responsibility at every level of management within every department. It should appear on the agendas of all team meetings so that the area that team are responsible for plays its part throughout the year, and not just be an item of the annual HR business plan. Those discussions should be focused on those negative unwritten rules that are powerfully driving the culture but are rarely spoken about – identifying why they exist, how they are created and how they can be positively changed. An organisation needs a ‘language’ that puts the word culture into relevance and meaning for everyone involved. ‘It is the way we do things around here’ has far more meaning than the word culture
Transformation and culture are often associated, particularly with an employee engagement focus, but they’re more than this. Could you please explain?
Transformation seeks to benefit from a highly engaged workforce that is adaptable and accepting of the change. Interestingly, the level of an employee’s engagement, whether they are invested in the organisation doing well and their commitment to playing their part in that, is dependent on the culture. We know that a disengaged workforce can become hurdles to a new way of thinking, whilst those that are actively disengaged will work hard to erect barriers. I witness all too often engagement being confused with communication. Giving messages and updates on how the transformation is going and how things will change in the future is obviously needed but transformation and culture are effectively trying to redefine ‘the way we do things around here’ through the convergence of practical operational design, the technology needed to achieve it and the mindset and behaviours of those involved. It would be dangerous to attempt to transform to a digitalised organisation when behaviours and mindset around cybersecurity leaves the business exposed for example. To me, real and sustainable transformation will be only be delivered if it is recognised that there will be an impact on the culture and that the culture will be impacting on the ability to deliver the transformation and embed it.
So, how do culture and transformation link then?
Transformation and culture are about the ‘whole system’ and they work in tandem. What is done in one area of the business potentially impacts in some way, in another. We use the diagram below to highlight this when we work with organisations that look at 6 key areas of an organisation:
- Its Customer Experience
- Its People
- It’s way of working
- Its leadership and management
- Its vision and strategies
For each of those areas, in turn, we ask 3 simple questions:
- How does what we do impact with regards to the 5 outer areas – and if so how?
- How does it impact on culture – if so on what cultural characteristic and how?
- Does something need to be done to ensure we contribute positively to the aspirational culture?
Our diagram has culture as the lynchpin at the centre with the remaining areas either impacting on the culture or being impacted by it. Individual projects will be covered by effective change management, but transformation must look at an holistic and balanced view across the whole system in all 6 areas. As our approach suggests, transformation and culture are completely entwined, and it should be noted that culture will either help or hinder transformation efforts within organisations – every time!
How important is it to understand how we make decisions, when looking at culture and transformation?
Most transformation decisions are focussed on the business context based on areas such as budget, technology, processes, structures and individual roles within the organisation, whilst decisions on culture are based on a need to deal with a people-related issue such as retention, wellbeing or when company values are refreshed. One goes hand in hand with the other, and It is vital that we make balanced, holistic decisions about transformation and culture based on reality. As the saying goes when wearing rose-tinted glasses, red flags just look like flags, so there is a danger of the reality of ‘the way we do things around here’ not being truly understood during the decision making process.
Ultimately, if organisations want to transform, should they be looking at cultural change first?
I don’t see it as cultural change needed first, but culture needs to be thoroughly considered from the outset. To me, the first step is to answer three basic but key questions:
- What is it we are trying to transform from/to?
- What type of culture do we need to achieve and embed that transformation?
- What are the key cultural characteristics needed?
Once you have answered that, you need to understand where your culture currently stands against where you need it to be. You may find that your culture does not need to ‘change’ but it requires development. On the other hand, your culture might need to be significantly transformed. Your transformation planning should be influenced based on the findings of your cultural assessment.
People are often seen as one of the biggest obstacles for transformation, and behavioural change is seen as an antidote for this, but how easy is behavioural change?
There is a need for clarity when we use the word behaviours. Behaviours fall into two categories within the context of the workplace:
- inappropriate behaviours: that are usually measured against commonly accepted standards of the way in which people act or conduct themselves towards others or in a given situation.
- misaligned perceptions: created by unrealistic expectations, a lack of consistency, the influence of others or a natural personal bias towards the negative.
Personal inappropriate behavioural traits will need an intervention that is significantly different to those behaviours that are generated from perceptions that have been created (for some over considerable time). Changing negative perception requires totally different interventions. In our work with Unwritten Ground Rules (UGRs), we know that it is the UGRs, defined as people’s perceptions of ‘this is the way we do things around here’, that constitutes an organisations culture. We also know that many people within an organisation have been unconsciously subscribing to negative perceptions and that when they are made aware of the UGRs that they are conforming to, it enables them to make a conscious choice about their behaviours. If a person perceives that their feedback is ignored in a meeting their future behaviour might be that they do not engage in any meeting in future. Showing that their feedback is valued and welcomed is relatively simple to achieve.
From all of this, what would say as your key piece of advice around workplace culture and transformation?
My advice is twofold. Understand the culture you need to have and clearly define the cultural characteristics you need to achieve it – ensuring you engage everyone in a conversation about it in a manner that is relevant to the position they hold and the role they play. Those characteristics must be more than a collection of nouns to truly understand what is needed and they must be given clarity of meaning to achieve positive outcomes. The second is to recognise that successful transformation is totally dependent on and will impact on the culture of the organisation and you must focus on both equally. Don’t let hope become a strategy of your transformation planning.
This interview is exclusive to The Business Transformation Network.