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Living Culture Excellence: Sustaining Culture Change Beyond Implementation

An article in the Roadmap Game series, by Niels Kooi

As we embark on the final leg of our journey through the roadmap game for culture change, we arrive at the Live stage: the pinnacle where all previous efforts converge to create a culture that lives, breathes, and thrives within your organisation. This stage isn't just about wrapping things up; it's the crux of embedding the cultural transformation deeply into the organisational fabric, creating flywheels of engagement that persist long after external support, including mine 😊, concludes. I will take a bit more of your time to explain this stage, and connect it to all the previous stages, but I promise you it will be worth your time...

The Live stage is about creating a ‘new normal’ At this juncture, our primary aim is to ensure continuity at all levels of change: organisational / group, personal, and systemic. The focus shifts to fostering ongoing activities that become a natural part of the new organisational norm. This objective isn't just about making change happen but ensuring it endures, self-sustained by the organisation and its individuals. It is really about creating a new normal.

In this stage, we build upon the foundations laid in the preceding stages of Define, Activate, and Measure. To summarise our journey so far, and include the Live stage, the stages have the following objectives:

  • Defining the aspired culture of a group of people, making sure to deliver on the strategic agenda

  • Activating the aspired culture via engaging energetic tools and interventions with key stakeholders

  • Checking to which extent the investments in culture have led to measurable change

  • Continuously investing in people and recurring events to keep the aspired culture alive

The Culture Change framework

Touch the group, individual, and systemic level to create the new normal

The Live stage should be seen as a capstone, making sure that all the stages’ previous objectives are captured, continuously investing in people and recurring events to keep the aspired culture alive. As always, in this stage we also rely on a variety of lenses, maintaining continuous improvement across the group, individual, and systemic levels. Some examples of the cards that are played in this stage of the Roadmap Game include:

  • Group level: Award Show to celebrate good examples of acting in line with the (aspired) culture; Lunch and Learn sessions to keep on learning from what others (inside and outside of the company) are doing to maintain momentum; Department Safari, to learn from how others continue to work towards a better culture.

  • Individual level: PDPs or Personal Development Plans, in which we add an element of cultural adherence, so that annually people need to specify what it is that they will be doing in line with the culture; Buddy Programmes so that people with similar challenges team up to learn from one another; Reversed Mentoring, so that more "senior" people can be coached by more "junior" people.

  • Systemic level: Office Fairies, where all users of a given pantry in the office get to decide on how to spend their pantry budget (on snacks, or a dart board etc.) in line with cultural guidelines; Quarterly Inspiration Cycles, in which Peer Learning takes place on a quarterly, institutionalised, basis; Kill the Process sessions where processes are made more lean, and made more in line with the ever-evolving culture.

Establishing the new normal means letting go as well Our comprehensive view of living culture change has led to numerous successes, detailed in the case studies on our website. Partnering with clients like Royal HaskoningDHV, and with the municipality of Amsterdam in using the Quarterly Inspiration Cycles, and various others in setting up Lunch and Learn sessions, and implementing Buddy Programmes. As you’re working on establishing the new normal, you sometimes feel like you’re exorcising the demons of the past (or current) culture: you will be met with different forms of resistance. Overcoming these obstacles requires strategic approaches.

Being ahead of the curve doesn’t help when you’re leading a change Organisations sometimes overlook the importance of reinforcing, embedding, and institutionalising these changes altogether. However, involving key stakeholders from the beginning aids in explaining the interconnectedness and gaining commitment, so get them involved in playing the Roadmap Game at the start. Typically leadership will underestimate the effort that needs to go into really embedding things on all levels. This stems from two – separate – drivers. First, leaders are mostly ahead on the change curve (there are different ways of looking at this, but there’s a widely-used example below): where leaders are already in the stage of ‘Acceptance’, most of the workforce (who were involved later, and less intense in the process) are between denial and depression.

The Kübler-Ross Change Curve

To overcome this, we train leaders in bootcamps on the different forms of resistance, psychology of change, and change management fundamentals. Second, leaders are relatively less exposed to the organisation’s systemic forces. But the 'worker bees', who are part of a process, can’t act in line with the ‘new normal’ if that process isn’t overhauled to match the aspired culture.

As an example, let’s say one of the aspired values is ‘Innovation’, and you’re involved in the Talent Acquisition process. If neither the content of the process is altered (you’re not focused on recruiting innovative people) nor the process itself (you’re still using the same method that you have been using for years), what do you really see in terms of the change? To counter this, we put leaders and process owners at the heart of these changes, so that they really also ‘feel’ the pain of change on a deeper systemic level, and not only the group and individual level.

Creating continuous interest in culture, by bringing it all together Engagement in the Live stage largely hinges on the activities initiated in previous stages, especially on organisational / group and individual levels, because they should all be connected. For instance: if you choose values as your main vehicle for the culture on an organisational level, that will impact what you will be doing on the individual and systemic levels, but also affects what you can do in activating them, measuring them, and living them. It even extends to which stakeholders should be involved in which stage.

Here’s an example below. This could be a partial outcome of playing the Roadmap Game. Once you have this, you can decide when you would like to see these things happening, where you would like to have (our) support, and when you’d like external support to phase out.

The complexity (or beauty) of interdependencies when working on culture change

The essence is to create continuous, ‘light’ ways of working on your culture, without people seeing and feeling it as an add-on: this means that the culture will be interwoven in the group, individual, and systemic levels, and has replaced some of the elements of the current culture you’d like to lose.

This is your blue pill or red pill moment, where your journey starts, and ends Post the Live Stage in the game, certain immediate actions are crucial. This is where we typically check the connections across the stages, iterate on the planning of all activities, and finalise everything in a presentation, before we go out into the real world again.

In real life however the Live stage never ends. Actually, you’re living your current culture right now. It’s in how you run the organisation (or how the organisation chart determines what you do), in how you develop yourself (or in how someone has determined how you should develop), and in how you run the processes (or how they run you).

So, are you ready to initiate change? The Roadmap Game offers a way forward. It’s about embarking on a journey that seamlessly integrates your organisation’s culture into the new normal. The choice is yours: status quo or game of change. Here's a teaser if you'd like to have this complete series condensed into a couple of slides.

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