What Makes Change Harder — or Easier

Before you adopt any popular new management approach, it pays to analyze the implicit values embedded in it. Then ask yourself: How well will those values fit our existing organizational culture?

In today’s turbulent business environment, many companies are undergoing major innovation or change initiatives. These transformational efforts are often accompanied by the introduction of new management practices and methods. The reasons for such changes are many: The “old way” of doing things no longer delivers desired results, a new strategy needs to be implemented, new technologies should be leveraged, or an entire business model needs revamping. Unfortunately, transformational initiatives often fail to live up to expectations or to deliver the intended results in a timely manner.

Our research and consulting experience suggest a key reason for this frequent failure: Organizations often don’t consider that the management practices and methods they are about to introduce come with underlying values and assumptions about how things should get done. We call this the management methods’ embedded culture. Failing to recognize that management approaches build on a specific set of values and were developed in the context of specific assumptions can lead to friction with the culture of the organization into which a new method is introduced.

But it does not have to be this way. Being aware that management methods and practices are not culturally neutral, but instead come with an embedded culture, can be a powerful lever to strengthen change efforts and increase the odds for success, so you can achieve your goals.

Culture and methods need to fit together to function well and be effective. This can play out in two different ways. If the values embedded in the new management method you are adopting fit your current organizational culture, they can help you perform quickly. If, however, the values embedded in the method are not congruent with your existing organizational culture, you must transform the culture by practicing and rewarding new behaviors. In the latter case, the management method becomes a vehicle for cultural change, because it delivers experiences that require new behavior.

In either case, it’s worth analyzing both the values of your organizational culture and those of the new management approach in order to identify areas with potential conflicts and a need for adaptation. Such conflicts can be addressed proactively when they are not hidden below the surface, and business leaders can then make better choices about how to successfully implement the new management methods.