Don’t Think An Organizational Culture Can Change? Think Again.

organizational culture adapt

Organizational culture – that all-encompassing and always elusive aspect of organizational functioning that impacts and guides everything that happens or fails to happen within a group. It affects every aspect of our daily lives and interactions at work whether we are conscious of it or not. Whether we like the results or not. This omnipresence can make the topic of organizational culture a lot for people to try to wrap their heads around let alone change. If we think about the topic of organizational culture simply as “the way work gets done”, it can seem like a near impossibility that it can adapt and change.

Difficult, yes. Impossible, no. Any number of internal or external factors can shape the culture of an organization at varying rates. Catalysts such as mergers and acquisitions, adoption of new technologies, the transition of a key leader or leaders, new government regulations, or an unanticipated global pandemic can all force people to adopt new behaviors to adapt the way work gets done in order to survive and compete.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected everyone in varying ways and took many organizations to task in short order to shed long-held beliefs, assumptions, and ways of working to thrive in the new environment. Many of these changes would have been unheard of prior to the forcing function of the pandemic. Take, for example, remote work. Many organizations would have balked at the idea of introducing work from home policies even partially before the pandemic. This external catalyst not only forced many businesses to adapt but it forced them to figure out how to do it at speed and for the long-term. After many months of operating in this new way, many of the employees in those same organizations are wondering why remote work policies would need to revert to a full-time office schedule in the future, and rightfully so.

Take, for example, Kissflow, a SaaS company based in Wilmington, Delaware. Like many businesses, Kissflow was forced to adapt to full remote work which there were reluctant to do prior to the forcing function of the pandemic. Now that the beliefs and assumptions about remote work have been shattered by the reality of the situation and the organization’s ability to thrive in this environment, they have introduced an entirely new work concept they call REMOTE+ into the organization. Employees work remotely from wherever they would like and each team meets for one workweek per month in the office to capitalize on the benefits of collaborating in person with the company footing the bill for accommodations while employees are in town.

The pandemic example is particularly poignant because we have all experienced it in one way or another over the last year. When forced to make a disruptive change, we adapted. Some organizations were better positioned to make these necessary changes than others because their cultures valued and fostered agility and resilience. Others struggled and some still may cease to exist due to their inability to pivot rapidly.

Regardless of the impetus for the change, internal and external factors will continue to require organizations to evolve their ways of working in order to meet the day. There is no denying this. Naturally, some organizations will be better positioned and better capable of evolving how they work than others. Those leaders who understand the value of creating the organizational muscles of agility and resilience will best mitigate the risks associated with disruptive requirements to change.

Some B2B providers utilize their ability to exercise these muscles of agility and resilience to create new business opportunities for themselves by supporting clients who are less able to adapt quickly during times of great change. Girish Rishi, CEO of Blue Yonder, provides supply chain solutions to clients globally. During the pandemic, his organization developed rapid COVID product offerings to help deliver essential medical goods to customers like Walgreens. By providing Supply Chain Risk Response, Blue Yonder was able to provide value to clients by supporting clients who were struggling to adapt as rapidly as the situation required.

The pandemic of 2020 had disruptive effects on REI as well. CEO Eric Artz told employees via a video call last September that the company would be selling its brand-new, never-occupied headquarters building in Bellevue, Washington which was subsequently purchased by Facebook. The massive impact of the external disruption caused by the pandemic forced executives to reexamine all of the beliefs and assumptions they held about the business.

Because we can’t always anticipate the disruption that will rock us to our core, the challenge becomes developing a culture that values developing agility in its people so that they are ready and able to flex to survive and thrive no matter what the challenge. This need can be a tough ask as we constantly work to manage the day-to-day requirements of getting the job done though. How do leaders meet the needs of today while also being intentional over the long-term to build these muscles into the fabric of the organization? These muscles may not need to be put to use all the time, but they may make or break an organization when the going gets tough.

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