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A dragonfish event: The value case for 'culture-first' Transformation.

In this era of constant change, societal, political, economic, and climate, to name just a few, it is becoming increasingly important for organisations to ensure their own sustainability and longevity. We must focus on the right strategies, future-proofing against multiple foreseen and unforeseen challenges, whilst retaining a longer-term mindset. As a result, transformation is at the forefront of leaders’ minds. 

Therefore, navigating and successfully implementing these transformations, and their multiple activities, has become a hot topic of conversation amongst the leadership community. In response, dragonfish brought together senior leaders from a variety of different organisations to discuss how culture enables the delivery of faster, better change.

Culture is an ecosystem of many parts, holistically connecting your brand, people, and customer experience and driving sustainable business performance and growth. It shouldn’t be seen as merely a workstream within transformation. It’s the glue between all workstreams, the key enabler for successful transformation and beyond.

We discussed all things transformation and in particular, we covered 3 big questions.

  1. What does successful transformation now take?

  2. How does culture enable transformation, and how do you embed changes in your culture whilst transforming?

  3. How do you truly embed, sustain, and measure successful transformation (and lasting, genuine culture change)?

What does successful transformation now take?

It all starts with leadership. In order for a transformation to be successful, leaders must be resilient and aligned on the case for change and ready to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and uncertain. They must believe that the transformation will have tangible business benefits for organisational, people, and customer outcomes. This means that leaders must also convey a consistent message around the context and rationale for change, and cascade this to their managers, supporting them to have the ‘conversations in teams’. 

 “Essence of ‘learned helplessness’ when people feel that transformation is being done to them” 

 - Chief of Staff, National Charity

The second, often forgotten, element of successful transformation is celebration and stories of impact. Celebrating the small wins and markers along the way and the symbols of change that these represent. It is also about recognising the organisational strengths that will help the entire workforce to navigate the change with energy and positivity, as well as identifying key people and influencers who will go deep and bring people with them.

These individuals should not just come from the leadership pool, but from across the workforce. Change advocates can have an incredibly positive impact on morale and well-being during a time of change. Widening the ownership of change will also help employees feel that they have a stake in the outcome, making them more motivated to be an enabler for success. It also supports those implementing the change to work with the cadence of the organisation, actively planning ‘change energy dips’ into the timeline, rather than having to respond to them retrospectively.


How does culture enable transformation, and how do you embed changes in your culture whilst transforming?

It’s so important through any transformation that culture is not seen as a separate project or workstream. It is something that exists whether we like it or not, so to intentionally manage and influence this throughout any change or transformation is critical in ensuring success. 

In order for culture to be an active ingredient and positive contributor to transformation, it needs to clearly articulate, inspire, and motivate people through a culture and transformation narrative connecting the why, what, and how with beliefs. For example, what are the behaviours that the organisation needs to encourage through transformation and how do we inspire teams and individuals to play their part? Culture can provide clarity through the fog of change, ensuring transformation and change initiatives are harmoniously connected.

“When it comes to transformation trust arrives on foot, but departs on horseback”

- CPO, Global  Digital Transformation Company

 If people feel as though they can trust in the integrity of the organisation from a cultural perspective, coupled with an authentic, aligned leadership team to a clear culture it makes people less fearful of uncertainties or the unknown. 


How do you truly embed, sustain, and measure successful transformation (and lasting genuine culture change)?

There are 2 pillars that our group discussed for making transformation ‘stick’. The first, and most commonly implemented, is to embed the transformation into everyday processes, procedures, and ways of working, such as reward and recognition structures. 

This is where the second pillar comes in, human-centered evolution. This is about recognising that culture and transformation are dynamic and continually adapting, therefore you need to evolve throughout the period of embedding, not just in the initial design of the transformation. This means continually learning, course course-correcting if you are heading in the wrong direction. Being patient, change does not happen overnight and therefore recognising the small symbols of change to demonstrate that progress towards the goal is present. In this vein, it is important to recognise that this is a change for everyone; leaders, managers, employees, and other stakeholders, and so people will make mistakes, we are all human after all. 

In summary, for transformation to be successful and deliver for all stakeholders, (people, customers, communities, partners, and shareholders), you have to think holistically. Ensuring that you connect any organisational transformation or change initiatives to culture, with a big C, -vision, purpose and values, behaviours and ways of working. At the same time, you also have to be open to listening, demonstrate resilience, and work hard to make the change human and real for everyone. 

“We know that impact happens when you put it on the ground”

- CPO, Global Research Non-profit Organisation

Finally, change is relative to its context. Organisations are now constantly evolving, so balancing optimism with realism matters. Without measurement and scaled learning, we cannot build the skills and muscle memory needed to sustain positive and lasting change. 


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