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Corporate culture is a system of attitudes and beliefs that shape behaviour. Your corporation or organisation has its own cultural beliefs about change, how people view and respond to it. People may not even be aware that they have these beliefs but you can observe them clearly in behaviour and patterns of interaction. Is change an enemy, to fend off or invite into only the tiniest parts of the organisation? For example, are large issues referred to a committee for further study? Does the committee's work result in new forms or paper-based change only? Is change seen as a necessary evil which requires a response in order to ‘get things back to normal?’ Or is it a welcome challenge and an opportunity to renew everything and everyone?

Have you ever had the feeling that within your operation some people push in one direction while others push in another? What would happen if everyone pushed in the same direction? Sometimes it seems the sales and production departments are each other’s worst enemies or accounting and inventory are at odds or management just doesn’t understand the real world, according to the office staff. What we sometimes find, when we are bold enough to ask how others view the situation, is a group of people who have no idea what the corporate goals are, how the other department works or the impact they have on the company’s success.

You can also find hints about your corporate change culture by looking at how it deals with the employees during the change process. Are decisions about change made at the highest levels and issued as directives to employees? Are employees viewed as opponents to change, who must be coerced or co-opted before change occurs? Or are the employees treated as partners in anticipating, inviting and managing change? You won't find answers to these questions in a personnel handbook or a description of the organisation's values better than observing its practices. Another consideration is getting some outside help. You may not have the time, expertise or internal credibility to be the force of change.

The most obvious example of cultural change happens when two companies merge and the employees who were formerly competitive are now theoretically on the same team. It takes months for many people to realise the other guys don’t have horns and that they have the same business and personal issues as they do. I’ve been in this situation and the upper management immediately developed a plan to ensure the two cultures had the opportunity to work and play, so the barriers were lowered. There were a series of monthly staff meetings where the president laid out the corporate goals, how each department contributed to the success of reaching those goals and the rewards for everyone when, as a team, we hit the target. There were quarterly get-togethers and most importantly, a team-building weekend away. Over two and a half days the facilitator took us through a series of exercises, games and communication training that bonded the participants. The employees talked about the experience for weeks afterwards.

If organisations in their own little corners of the world focused on nothing but mission and product or service offering, no single theory for handling change would be more suitable than another. However, few if any, businesses could afford to operate in that kind of isolation. And the more your business requires an open door policy with the world, the more the viewpoints related to transformational change are suited to your operation. When you deal not only with a small, stable specialty clientele, but also with interprovincial, international markets and with local and provincial or government departments, you are constantly bombarded with change from the outside. This is especially true in sales, which is in itself an open door to the world. You cannot afford to resist change. You must embrace change to always be one step ahead of the competition.

Being there first with the most guarantees nothing. If your organisation is open to change not just paper reorganisation but changes that organise work around outcomes and include everyone who affects those outcomes, you don't need to worry about changing your corporate culture. But if your organisation operates as it does because ‘that's the way we've always done things,’ your work as a manager is cut out for you. Change will be imposed on your organisation from the outside world and you will have to deal with your employees' responses to it, as well as the organisation's resistance to reformulating itself.

Changing the corporation from within is difficult, even when the organisation is deeply committed to change. When the organisation fears change, the first task is to make people aware that there are different ways to think about and respond to change. Organisations that don't learn this lesson will soon exist in old phone books and nowhere else.

Obviously if you’re still here, it’s likely you’ve already made some changes. There are computers where typewriters used to be, e-mail rather than pink message slips, your accountants and sales departments operate differently than they used to. On the other hand, if you’re still using the same tired old systems for accounting and sales from 20 years ago, you’ll rapidly fall behind the competition. The leap to change corporate culture will take some planning and execution. With a little help and full commitment, you’ll have a team that is all pulling in the same direction.

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