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Home-office, remote work and numerous mandates and restrictions have fundamentally changed our working lives in the past year, along with swift technological change. But what is happening to the other important part of business, culture? Andreas Kaufmann, who has been working in organizational development at PAWLIK since 2001, has some answers.

For those who don't deal with corporate culture on a daily basis. How do you define the term?

In a nutshell: what makes employees tick and what beliefs they hold. Strategy determines what we do, organization determines the process, but the way we bring these things to life is culture! That is what makes strategy really take off. There are many who see culture as an end in itself, but that is wrong. Engaging with corporate culture pays off in profit.

How long have you been working on the topic of culture transformation - and what has changed during this time?

I have been advising companies on culture change for over 20 years. Initially, I worked in France with international clients. Our focus was on national cultures until we realized that the difference in corporate cultures within a nation is sometimes greater than the difference between national cultures.

Can you explain that in more detail?

We have been involved in mergers and acquisitions like Volvo and Renault Trucks and noticed that the difference between Sweden and France was smaller than the difference between companies in the same country and sometimes even between departments in the same company. We noticed that organization, people and strategy do not work without a unifying culture. Freely adapted from Peter Drucker: "Culture eats strategy for breakfast and organization for lunch".

How important is culture transformation to customers today? Has demand changed?

Demand has exploded for us, especially during the pandemic. All the issues are coming together now: Strategy, organization, culture and leadership.

What problems do your clients encounter?

There are many. We can already feel that the employees' sense of belonging is a sensitive issue. New employees are in the office once a week and know their new colleagues, if at all, through virtual meetings. Culture as a unifying element is difficult to convey.

 

And what kind of solution would you recommend?

First of all, I would measure the relevant criteria. We have developed our own tools to measure, for example, the willingness to take risks, which is important in these times. Gathering numbers often provides a solid basis for a conversation. You won’t get through to them with empty phrases like "We have to be more risk-averse, etc.". That's when the board yawns and says, "We've read Harvard Business Review, too."

My second big recommendation is, "Make it a C-Level Topic." In other words, start at the top! This is not something that can be delegated to the HR-officer or a small project group, who then try to come up with something. The board must be behind it, otherwise it's doomed to fail.

Is there another one?

The third one is "scaling," that is, mapping out your process beforehand and planning with a good amount of time in order to maximize the project’s impact. You have to create a "playground" where departments can simply try out how it feels to make a mistake. Or organize a "Challenge Night" where colleagues may share their mistakes with others.

Especially in uncertain times, many employees stick to tradition.

That is also OK, important even. Transformation also involves acknowledging the old; the past culture had its justification. It must be pointed out which beliefs are still valid today. But also, which ones used to be right in the past, why they are no longer right now and which ones they need to be replaced by. The art here is to make it tangible. This is the only way to develop a sense of urgency, the feeling of "We need this, let's get this done!” The rest is the tools of the trade.

What role do leaders play in this and what skills do they need?

Leadership now plays an extremely large role, but this alone is not enough; culture is not just leadership. Leaders need to be able to let go. They have to allow their teams to try out things that they actually know are wrong. That feels strange at first as a leader, because you're supposed to make sure everything is done right. But that's necessary for change. They also have to be role models and exemplify the change in culture.

And the change-minded employees?

There are many companies that take the approach that "first movers" need to be reached and then the others will follow. They target the people who are most ready to make a change. However, if they move too fast, they are quickly dismissed as a group of crackpots just doing their thing. If they move too fast, it can be too much. I think it's much more important to encourage the "first followers." The "first movers" are the multipliers, especially in communications, but it is with the "first followers" that the momentum is created. When an initial skeptic joins, it quickly sweeps others along.

What significance will culture transformation take on in the next few years, and what new challenges will it face?

Clearly the importance is on the rise. Working life will continue to change and corresponding adjustments will be necessary. The topic of creating one’s own identity will continue to gain in momentum. In the context of asynchronous work in, for example, seven different teams at the same time with flat hierarchies and little affiliation. It will become more difficult to form identities, which are, however, very important.

 

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