In 2010 Spendvision, while successful, was suffering from an unrealistic business plan which had them trying to do too much. The Management Team was pulling in different directions and this lack of cohesion resulted in a culture of confusion and protectionism. The initial challenge for Spendvision was to have the proverbial ‘mirror’ held up to the business, as a call for action and change.
The immediate goal was to create a self-reflective shock for the Management Team. It was important for the group to discover and understand the impact of their behaviour on the rest of the business. With discord and self-protective behaviour widespread throughout the Management Team, Spendvision was noticing the impact of a divided leadership team. The challenge was creating a situation by which the results of an allstaff survey would bring the Management Team together rather than fuel further discord. The cause for the current operating state needed to be owned by the Management Team so the business could address the challenges as it moved from a start-up to a mature business.
Together with Human Synergistics, Spendvision developed a measurement project to survey the operating culture of the business in order to establish an organisational baseline. Importantly, the measure had to be an independent valuation that could be scientifically proven and robust enough to hold up against the scrutiny of technical specialists. It was positioned as ‘a spotlight’ to highlight the need to think differently about the way things were being done.
Measuring the operating culture
In late 2010, all members of the organisation were invited to complete the Organisational Culture Inventory® (OCI) and Organisational Effectiveness Inventory™ (OEI). Climate surveys had been conducted in the past, with the introduction of the OCI/OEI being a big departure from the methodology that had been used previously. Members were asked to not only describe some of the hygiene factors – satisfaction, employer of choice, motivation - but also express their experiences on how the business was organised and how this impacted the way they felt expected to work and behave.
The data from the baseline survey was presented to the Management Team through the Human Synergistics ‘How Culture Works’ model (see Figure 1). The model, in its simplest form, helps an organisation understand what it wants to achieve, what it needs to do to achieve this, what it ends up with and the performance outcomes. This was a systems model unfamiliar to the business, but one they could easily interact with. When applying the Spendvision data to each of the elements, the Management Team were not surprised by the results. The scope of the Aggressive/Defensive operating culture reinforced the feeling that people were afraid to make mistakes, that they were being pitched against each other, and that the business was reacting to trying to do too much. The results highlighted a need for change. A debriefing workshop was facilitated to help create a space for members to have a meaningful conversation about the operating culture that was data, rather than ego driven. There was acceptance by the Management Team that things were not right and needed to change; this was paralleled with the opinion of the majority shareholders who were unhappy and dissatisfied with the performance of the business. There was also acknowledgement that elements within the business were resistant to change. As part of this initial discovery phase, the Management Team also looked at the data from different locations, roles and departments. The intention was to discover whether the current operating culture was consistent across each of the groups, or whether specific demographic areas had different operating cultures. Based on analysis of the data from the OCI/OEI survey, the Management Team determined three key areas for development – themselves (the Management Team), the geographically isolated offices, and the external reputation of the business. Data from the OEI Causal Factors was then reviewed and a priority list was compiled to be the key Levers for Change.
Acknowledging that change needed to start at the top, the Management Team focused on Mission and Philosophy and Communication as important Levers for Change.
Pulling on the Communication lever, the Management Team concerned themselves with creating a shared understanding of the message they wanted members to hear. The message needed to be consistent across the different work groups and locations, and each member of the Management Team was required to create the same picture in the minds of others as they held together as a group. Information that was shared across the business linked activity to outcome and the overall business plan. Doubt and speculation disappeared as the wider business held a common and shared understanding of why the business priorities were as they were.
The business quickly became aware of what was going on and why it was happening. Members noticed the role modelling of the Management Team, who were deliberate and purposeful with their communication. Members walked away from meetings with clarity of how the day-to-day activity and the outcome were linked back to the business plan (the purpose). In a fatigued culture, members were beginning to witness swift change and commented on the positive difference it was making around them.
Seeing the changes
The business was moving from a frantic, busy attitude to one that was calm and stable. The Management Team were articulating a defined direction and clear path through which all staff members became involved and could understand the importance of their role in the process. The spotlight had squarely been put on what the business was focused on achieving. Attention was paid to a method and style of communication that would encourage participation from members, emphasising a top-down and bottom-up approach. Leaders were consistent, supportive and transparent with their decision making. The focus wasn’t on changing culture for culture’s sake, but working to improve business outcomes and performance. Emerging from the change was a sense of healthy conflict and a noticeable decline in the internal jockeying for position or title. Heading in to the next round of measurement, the business was well ahead on their annual plan.
The 2011 OCI/OEI results surprised the Management Team, particularly the degree of reduction in Aggressive/Defensive styles and Passive/Defensive styles across all levels of the business. Team members reported a 7% improvement in the Constructive styles and a substantial decrease in the Defensive styles (a 39% improvement). The business was achieving more in a calmer working environment.
“We were so busy and exhausted in the Red, and now we’re achieving more in a much calmer (Blue) fashion.”
Diagnostic Tools Organisational Culture Inventory® (OCI) Preferred and Actual and Organisational Effectiveness Inventory™ (OEI)
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