Organizational Change: Transformation through People and Processes

Transform Your Business, Change Your Company Culture

Think back over all the places you have worked. What was it like to work there? Did you ever experience a layoff or a business closing? Did the business you worked for implement a change initiative? That change could have been implementing new software or technology.  Perhaps they decided to outsource some aspect of the business.

You know from experience that making changes is tough. Your success is dependent on the people working in and on your business. Changing the culture in your business is one of the critical steps in moving performance to the next level. Cultural change is one of if not the most difficult aspect of organizational change.

The current culture has evolved and is intrinsic to your systems, current team and roles, and every aspect of doing business. The reality is that the existing “way we’ve always done it” will go into self-defense mode to preserve existing norms, interactions, and comfort zones. Even when the organization is at risk of layoffs, closings, and other negative consequences, people are reluctant to embrace change.

Their reluctance stems from their comfort level with how things are. They know what to expect and what their role is in the current structures and systems. They have been a part of the evolution of the culture. The culture has evolved from the styles and preferences of those in management and leadership positions and their tendency to hire people who think and act and agree with them.

Your organization has been hiring to reinforce the existing culture, actions, and behaviors of the long-term team members. So to transform your organization’s culture, you will need to challenge the norms, the perceptions, the intrinsic need to defend “what is.”

It is a tough ask of your organization to recognize that the current culture may be a substantial obstacle to future success. After all, the team you are asking to change helped create the existing culture. So your first step in transforming the organization is to generate insight and self-awareness at the organization, group, and individual levels. Everyone has to recognize that the organizational culture is a contributing factor to future success.

Transforming the Current Culture

Over time, as an organization grows, the culture changes from what was intended. These changes are subtle, nuanced changes that occur as people come and go, move positions, and interact become the culture. To ask people to change consciously, challenges them to rock their worlds.  Often people will resist changing up to the point of damaging the organization’s ability to compete and thrive. I remember when working at a Fortune 500 company and the new CEO described the layers of management as an “impervious layer of clay.” The layer of established managers, long-term managers, not advancing in their careers, resisted every change. Not only did they resist change, they actively made decisions that undermined the new CEO’s directives. The CEO then must decide if he/she is willing to engage in a complete overhaul of the organization, even if it means getting rid of long-term employees.

Not So Bad, But Not Good Enough

Some organizations find that the existing culture isn’t dysfunctional, but it doesn’t align with the direction the business must go to thrive. Transforming a functioning culture requires adjustments that align the organization with the new goals and shifts what the organization values and rewards.

Where to Start the Change

One of the early steps in creating organizational change is to influence the human resource aspect of the business – the hire, reward, retain, and train system. If people continue to hire people just like them, then your organization will not change. If you continue to reward behaviors and results that do not align with the new vision, goals, and strategies, you will continue past results.

Intervention and transformation begin with the human resource assets, your team. The intervention may mean adopting new ways of recruiting, screening and training new hires. You may need to shift at least temporarily the hiring process up the management chain or outsource to get the candidates through that “impervious layer of clay” so that you have the talent, skills, and attitudes moving into the organization.

Something else that may require another look is how employees are developed and advanced. From experience I know that employees who don’t fit, conform, and are willing to look for new ways of doing things are constrained, restrained, and even discouraged from using the talents and skills that the organization desperately needs. I’ve seen too many organizations create innovative teams to undertake significant change projects and staff them with people who lacked the technical skills and desire to create change. One example that comes to mind was a corporation that needed to transform the financial reporting system. Executive leadership asked for a team to design and prototype the system. Unfortunately, they relied on middle managers who had no desire for a new system to staff that team. The people selected had no computer skills, no modeling skills, and had no idea where to start building a brand new system. As a result, the team recreated the existing financial reporting system using new database software.

Insight Required

Psychologists recognize that change requires insight. The individual (and organization) need to have the ability to objectively evaluate itself and understand what motivates your actions and behaviors. Without insight, self-awareness, there can be no real or lasting change.

Change occurs in one of four states.  The first method of change is authoritarian – someone says change must happen and compels the change. Authoritarian change is the “because I told you to” and that is reason enough to make the change.

An external influence compels the second state of change and causes you to decide to comply. Think peer pressure, the influence of group norms, or the impact of environment on your behavior.

The third state of change is self-awareness that there is a need for change. Something isn’t working, so you intellectually realize your actions and behaviors need to change.

The fourth state and the long-lasting, enduring state where change happens, is self-motivated change. You don’t like your current state or results; you are mentally and emotionally committed to change, whatever it takes.

Your leadership mission is to get the people in your organization to realize and recognize the need to change to support the organization’s progress and enable success. So in the short-term, you may need to utilize all four states of change to change your organization.

Initially, the positional authority can be used to change policies and practices related to human resources.  You can build on that success by putting in place key personnel, leaders, and managers that are committed to transforming the organization and they can exert influence throughout the organization (impact the environment) to move the transformation forward.

However, to achieve a complete transformation, you will need to guide team members through a process to develop self-awareness and become self-motivated. The successful organization is one that at every level has employees who can identify needed changes and have the means to escalate those changes to the proper level to make them happen.

Change occurs when people in an organization realize and recognize that their current culture must change or the organization won’t thrive. However, change will not be easy or pretty regardless of how aware of or necessary change is. Change is challenging, uncomfortable. It takes time, tools, and leadership.

Start the Transformation Here

  1. Define the current culture.
  2. Define the desired outcomes and culture that will support success.
  3. Create and communicate the vision.
  4. Plan the new culture
  5. Create the framework – policies, procedures, systems, tools, etc.
  6. WIIFT – What’s in it for them? Point out the benefits
  7. Motivate the change with performance metrics, reward, and opportunities.

It isn’t easy. But change happens every day. Your goal is to decide what change will happen, then guide your organization step-by-step on the difficult and rewarding journey ahead.


Lea A. Strickland, MBA MA CMA CFM CBM GMC is President and CEO of F.O.C.U.S. Resource, Inc. ( located in the Research Triangle Park region of North Carolina. Lea works with client companies throughout North America to grow their organizations by transforming how the business operates. Lea specializes in business processes and systems, organizational change, funding (including crowdfunding), government contractor and grant systems, and growth strategies. Contact her via email or by phone 919.234.3960.