Discovering the importance of culture in driving organisational change

06 January 2022

Explore why Esosa chose to study the Executive Diploma in Organisation Change at WBS and how the programme has highlighted the importance of culture in change.

“Change is the only constant in life” as said by Greek philosopher Heraclitus, so when it came to a shift in my career, I knew it had to be organisational change.

Having worked in various organisations where change such as process improvements, companywide restructuring, mergers, and acquisitions had taken place, I had grown to build my own portfolio of theories about strategies employed to implement change and the impact of change on organisations. As a curious being, I tend to approach such change interventions with lots of questions: what led to the need for change, why did they think the change is a fit for the organisation, could they have chosen a better mode of communication, did their consideration include details about each employee, team, and group dynamics, etc?

I was a little apprehensive when I started applying for this course, as I wondered if my expectations would be met or if I would regret it. Despite attending an online seminar where some staff and past students spoke about how wonderful it was, before I clicked on the submit button, I insisted on speaking with the Course Director and a student outside of the group. My separate conversation with each of them was strategic and satisfied my voracious inquisitiveness to know if the course and the university suited me. And come the very first lecture, I knew I was in the right place. The modules delivery was on point, the conversations with my classmates who are change agents in their own rights from across the globe, were rich and even though online*, the ambience felt right.

While I enjoyed all taught modules, one of my favourites was Implementing Organisational Change. In this, I learned the importance of choosing a change design and implementation strategy that align with the DNA of an organisation; one which includes inputs from the people that the change is being made for.

As I sat through all the lectures, one thing that became clear to me is the ‘missing link’ in the theories of organisational change. It was organisational culture. I learnt how powerful organisational culture is in driving needed change though often ignored, it is the underpinning of most if not all change programmes.

Sometimes, it is not very easy to tell the culture of a place and other times, it oozes out like perfume. I recall a time when I took my son to trial at a local football club; on day one, I could tell something was amiss and this suspicion was later confirmed on day two making me vouch never to return there. Although my 13 years old son couldn’t understand what I was trying to say and kept pleading that we return, he later appreciated it when I took him elsewhere to develop his passion for football and by the end of day one, the warm welcome and individualistic value we received made him thank me for my decision! This is exactly how I see organisational culture- it is felt, it is seen, it is tangible, and is perceived.

I have witnessed different forms of organisational change and its effect on not just the organisation but its staff resilience, productivity, and morale. While some have been almost seamless and successful, others have been ugly leading to the loss of income, damaged company reputation, and sadly, on one occasion, death among staff as a result of not managing change effectively and considering mental wellbeing during the change process.

It is said that throughout an organisation’s lifetime, it will inevitably undergo at least one form of organisational change. Given change is expected, it tells why organisations need to be poised and committed to ensure there is a fit between their culture and the change that is implemented. Culture is a success tool. I have seen first-hand how behavioural change almost crippled the success of some business changes I led. It was a feat to get paradigms to shift because of deep rooted behaviours which transcend new artifacts, processes and tools.

Culture is constantly evolving. A company’s culture changes over time as it is passed from generation to generation and from person to person. So, if it is the right one, it should be preserved as the fundamentals that the company sticks to and if bad, it should be corrected.

Culture is unique. Just as the culture of a people, tribe, community, and country is uniquely diverse, so is the culture across different organisations. To be able to successfully implement organisational change, change agents must spend time making sense of the unique culture of an organisation’s way of working, their shared values, beliefs, routines and attitudes.

According to Edgar Schein, “Culture is a serious business that will be a useful construct if people really observe, study, and understand it.” And because an organisation’s culture gives its people a sense of identity, belonging and pride, it is important that it is taken seriously during any change intervention.

Having now graduated, it is no wonder why choosing to study organisational change was quite easy, for it sure resonates with who I am, my beliefs and vision for organisations. And with this, I now look forward to what the future holds!

Find out more about our Executive Diploma programmes here.

* Esosa’s teaching took place online due to the pandemic, but will typically take place face-to-face at The Shard