How do the values of an organization impact
the approach to managing change?
The business world is fascinated by culture.
Academics have studied it. Authors have written about
it. Great leaders know how to leverage culture to ensure
wildly successful business outcomes. Conversely,
well-documented case studies demonstrate how incorrect
assumptions about organizational values can lead to
misunderstandings at best and failed projects and lost
profit at worst. In the frenzied quest for a silver
bullet to understand what culture tells us about the way
business should be conducted, there is little debate
that organizational value systems have a powerful
As a change manager, one key fact about culture stands out:
organizational value systems impact the way change happens. What is
important to our organization? How are decisions made? Who is in charge?
How do I relate to other employees and groups within our organization?
What behaviors are rewarded and recognized? What is compensation based
The answers to these questions vary
from country to country,
from industry to industry,
from organization to organization and from department to department. It
is critical for all change managers to understand the
underlying values of their organizations because these factors
directly influence the way
change will be accepted and how much work will ultimately
be required to
ensure successful outcomes for the business.
Universal principles – unique manifestations
Research from Prosci and from many other sources over the years shows
that certain core aspects of change are common to all humans, regardless
of title, industry or nationality. This series of tutorials focuses on
some of those underlying universals:
- Communication is essential yet there is a disconnect between
senders and receivers.
- Change happens on an individual and deeply personal level.
Resistance is the normal human reaction to change.
- Leaders bring authority for change and legitimize changes within
- The size and scope of the change itself impacts how it will be
- On its own, the right answer is not enough to bring about
- Change is a process.
Overlaying each principle is the reality that a shared set of
values and beliefs an organization holds uniquely and tangibly
how these universals will play out on any given change. One example of
this is the fundamental motivator of desire. Every individual has an
intrinsic need to accept and acknowledge the benefits of a change in
order to fully support it. They need to know the answer to the question
"what's in it for me?" However, cultural factors influence whether that
question is approached from a collective or
individualistic perspective. Some value systems focus on
“what’s in it for us as a group,” while others take great stock
in "what’s in it for me as an individual."
A second example comes in the way resistance is displayed or
expressed. In some organizational cultures, resistance is very visible.
Employees readily make their objections known openly and loudly. In
other cultures, particularly those with values around deference to
authority, dissent is much less overt, often taking the form of passive
or underground resistance. Resistance to change is universal - how an
employee actually resists and
what that resistance looks like will
depend on culture and values.
facets of change management – communications, sponsorship, coaching,
training, and resistance management – are necessary the world over. The
basic questions a change manager asks are the same in any organization.
It is the answers to those questions
and the manifestation of the change
management activities that need to be approached differently from group to group.
Values impact employee reaction to change
The culture of an organization has a direct impact on how employees
react to change and what specific change management strategies will be
most effective. An organization’s value system is an important and
telling factor in how much change management effort is needed on a given
In many modern workplaces, employees are personally
engaged with and
heavily invested in the current state. They take ownership of their work
and feel authority to make decisions about their own work processes and
work environments. These values have proven very positive when it comes
to productivity and performance metrics. However, they create a
need for change management. People demand to know why any given change
is being made and have to see a clear answer to the question “what’s in
it for me?”
The role of change managers in this type of environment is larger and
more involved, particularly when a change initiative is introduced from
the top down. Change managers can expect to expend
more effort in
anticipating and managing resistance. Employees must each go through a
personal transition process in order for change to be realized on an
organizational scale. Targeted plans need to be orchestrated for both
individuals and groups of impacted employees.
Contrast that with a more traditional command and control
the workplace. Change frequently happened from the top down; employees
did not have decision-making authority. “Because the senior leader said
so” in and of itself was a great motivator of desire in a patriarchic
environment. These traditional operating structures are still prevalent
today in some industries and geographic locations.
In the traditional environment, change management is necessary but it
takes less dedicated time and energy. People who are engaged and fully
understand why the change is being made will be more committed and
produce better results. However, the amount of effort required for
building desire is lower, as is the amount of work managing resistance
at the individual level. Simple sponsorship activities make a
significant impact. Though passive or unspoken resistance still exists,
open resistance is less prevalent because consistency and predictability
are rewarded behaviors.
Changing value systems
Other changes in the business world have spawned similar shifts in
values that have increased the amount of change management work to be
done. The rapidly increasing speed of business
and the expectation of
more, better and faster results in the marketplace demands a level of
change capacity unseen before. Almost three-quarters of participants in Prosci’s
Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report indicated
their organization was nearing, at, or past the point of
saturation. The common symptoms of a change saturated environment cited
in the study – disengagement, apathy, burn-out and automatic resistance
– necessitate more time and resources dedicated to change management
The effects of globalization and the internet
era further influence
the value systems of organizations and increase the amount of change
management work to be done. Many organizations, from large
multi-national corporations to local family-owned businesses, do not
have a homogeneous workforce. Cultural values within the same
organization vary from person to person and this drives a need for more
individualized and intricate change management plans. The internet era
has created an expectation in the workforce of real-time communication
and a constant flow of information. This provides a change manager with
more information to manage and disseminate through a wider variety of
channels in order to meet that expectation.
The net effect of these shifts in values and realities over the past 50 years is
that change management is needed more today than ever before
the new values system of the workforce. Change managers must undertake
change from a holistic perspective that addresses both
as a whole and the individual. Individual change management models are
necessary, in parallel to organizational change management
methodologies, to support employees who operate with modern value
Key lessons for change managers:
Value systems are the organizational canvas
any change project is painted. Listen carefully and observe
constantly to gain insight about the leadership structure,
organizational history and underlying beliefs of the groups impacted
by the change.
The basic principles of change management will be
differently in every organization. Conduct an organizational
attributes assessment to spur discussion about these issues and to
help you make sure you have asked the right questions. There is no
magic formula for fully understanding value systems.
Only after the strategy work is complete,
customize and scale
specific change management action plans that take into account the
unique value systems of the impacted organizations.
With changing values in business and in the world at large, change
management as a discipline must address both
the organization as a
whole and the individual. Focusing exclusively on traditional
organizational change activities such as communication and training
is no longer sufficient.
In this tutorial series:
Module 1: The psychology of change
– understanding the guiding principles of effective change
Module 2: Senders and Receivers –
understanding why some communications work and others don’t
Module 3: Resistance – understanding a phenomena
that is natural to all of us
Module 4: Authority for change – the role of
leadership during change
- Module 5: How do the values of an organization impact
the approach to managing change?
Module 6: Incremental vs radical change
Module 7: The right answer is not enough
Module 8: Change is a process