In times of major change it is useful to find out what is and what’s not working in your culture. A cultural values assessment using Corporate Transformation Tools (CTT) from Barrett Values Centre is one way we helped this client to find out.
This ASX listed entity is a global leader in its industry and was born from a challenging demerger. The ‘why’ of the demerger made good sense but there were significant legacy systems, process and people issues that had to be resolved on the way to forging its own identity and culture. A new, first time CEO and executive team was in place and new values and behaviours had been decided and promoted.
A year into it, they wanted a baseline view of their culture so they could see whether their espoused values and behaviours were becoming embedded and if there was a clear vision of the future. They wanted to pinpoint where to focus their efforts and a way to measure progress.
An extensive Cultural Values Assessment (CVA) was conducted across four regions, in 3 languages, and in online and paper-based format so people working in the field with limited computer access could participate. More than 2000 people responded.
An organisation in crisis
It was clear that they were an organisation in crisis. The size of the leadership team had doubled and the drawn out transition to a new matrix structure had not gone well. Prevalent values including cost reduction, bureaucracy, confusion, long hours and low morale were limiting their progress and negatively affecting their results.
The survey reflected that lowering costs was the driving force in the business. Employees were worried about their jobs and lack of access to vital resources and knowledge to empower their efforts. There was no clear direction to guide people’s actions and decisions, and they were overworked navigating rigid systems and processes to meet immediate needs. Staff were exhausted and deflated in the face of constant change.
People acknowledged the current values – acting profitably, continuous improvement, teamwork and being an agent of change, were on the right track. In order to become a high performing organisation they also called for open communication, customer focus, balance (home/work), positive attitude, adaptability and employee recognition.
From insights to action
The CVA survey was just the start of the culture conversation. After sharing the results the organisational development (OD) manager conducted numerous focus groups or ‘listening sessions’ to better understand the behaviours that demonstrated current and desired values. Based on this feedback they chose to focus on a few key themes that impacted the whole company: Communicate, Celebrate and Simplify.
There was a commercial group already tasked with simplifying systems and re-engineering processes. A comprehensive communications plan was relentlessly actioned and a working group established to improve reward and recognition. To lift morale and productivity, a highly visible and engaging program that celebrated and rewarded performance while demonstrating the organisation’s values and behaviours was implemented globally.
To track progress, the survey was repeated a year later. The overall level of dysfunction had diminished from a crisis situation to one still requiring attention. It showed that employee recognition had become successfully embedded but there was still a lot of work to be done.
This time they decided to ‘slice and dice’ the data to drill even further down into specific demographics such as location, business unit, role level and brand. The 91 data cuts provided deeper insight into the many sub cultures that existed and enabled leaders to take more accountability for their results and the actions required.
Leaders make the difference
One executive was unconvinced of the culture survey’s value so the OD manager presented him with a colour coded, one pager ranking the scores for each of the areas he was responsible for. He soon realised the impact leadership has on culture and commented that if he hadn’t seen the survey results and had to rank the strength of his leaders, he would have come up with the same list in the same order. With new found confidence in the data he identified the key issues for each area and worked with individual managers to come up with a plan of action.
This organisation started to make some good progress culturally and continued to grapple with the massive shifts required. Arguably demergers are even more difficult than mergers. It was interesting to note that the values of the Executive team were highly skewed to the individual level, with limited importance placed on relationships. This was always going to make working collaboratively and focusing on people more of a challenge for them as individuals and as a team.
The culture survey stressed the dire situation and pinpointed the urgent issues to address. Progress was being made at the grass roots level however, change at the senior leadership level did not come soon enough for the Board. The original CEO departed, making way for further leadership changes and staff redundancies. The appetite for culture development diminished, the organisational development function was disestablished and this form of measurement was stopped. Almost five years on, the company is continuing to transform. An international CEO and new leadership team are taking the company in a new direction and they are making progress financially.
Demergers or divestitures are not uncommon. The type of cultural insights uncovered about this organisation were hugely valuable although hugely confronting. The original CEO showed courage in adopting this transparent process which gave leaders a clear roadmap on where to focus and a measure of progress, something that is reportedly now lacking from a cultural perspective.
What would a cultural values assessment reveal about your organisation?
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