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Tales from the front line: An HR Consultant's perspective

Cultural change – the easy way to keep New Year's resolutions

This is the time of year when many of those well intentioned but possibly impossible to keep New Year’s resolutions are being put to the test. What seemed a great idea to help keep us fitter/slimmer/happier a few weeks ago may now seem like an impossible mountain to climb or far too difficult to fit into our busy schedules. So, for many of us, those resolutions are falling by the wayside of the road of good intentions destined never really to happen. But what most of us know (and there are articles aplenty on the subject!) is the way to really change your lifestyle for the better and permanently, is not to be too ambitious all in one go – small, bite-sized resolutions are much more likely to be kept long term and make a real difference than grand sweeping plans to totally reinvent yourself in one fell swoop.

The same can be applied to any organisation that is going through change, especially cultural change where you are asking people to change behaviours and mind sets. Change can be difficult for many people but if we encourage folk to make very small changes that can have immediate and visible benefits, they are far more likely to buy into the wider programme and feel less threatened.

An organisation I know was in a critical state. It was very traditional in its approach – remote management team, disengaged and demotivated staff and so much was conspiring against it – including their offices which comprised of a number of self contained offices over a number of floors – a communication and team building nightmare. Key staff were leaving and the rest were mainly just waiting to find another opportunity to go to. The leadership knew things had to change but they were the ones most scared of doing anything new or outside of their familiar comfort zones.

So we put in place some very small, easy (and inexpensive) to implement initiatives where we could try them out knowing we didn’t have to do it again if it didn’t work.  We set up a number of informal lunches where two senior managers (there’s safety in numbers) took out up to 8 more junior employees just to get to know them. After the initial and inevitable ‘What’s the hidden agenda?’ questions from staff, the lunches proved a huge hit, with people getting to know colleagues who sat literally a couple of desks away for the first time (and sometimes even speaking to each other for the first time as well).  The CEO threw monthly breakfasts so employees could see he was, in actual fact, a human being and actually quite approachable.  We made promotion processes transparent and gave 121 feedback sessions for both successful and unsuccessful nominees. We introduced Spot Awards and most importantly, senior managers were coached to thank their staff on a regular basis – possibly one of the most underrated and least employed motivators any organisation can use to help keep staff engaged.

None of this is new or revolutionary, but that’s the point really. Small, simple things can often be overlooked in the rush to effect large scale change but often it pays to sit back and think small in order to better achieve the bigger picture.

And did the above help affect the above organisation wanted and needed to make? Well, we did a lot of other things as well, but by starting to break down the barriers, encouraging informal conversations and generally helping people just to get to know each other, there was far more trust in both the company generally and the leadership team in particular, which helped push through changes that might otherwise have proven far more difficult.


Rowena Cowan

Rowena is a Partner in our HR Consultancy team. She has extensive experience as an Senior HR professional.

To discuss cultural change challenges in your organisation,  or any other HR related issues, please contact a one of the following members of our HR Consultancy team:

Rowena Cowan: Telephone: +44 (0) 207 036 8384

Angela Mansell: Telephone: +44 (0) 203 051 5711



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