8 successful approaches to cultural change

Below we set out 8 key success factors for embracing the Future of Work in your organisation. This is based on our own research, conversations with clients and what we see in the London Insurance Market and beyond. We are happy to talk about any of these in more detail.


1 Strategy Driven

Before you start, you need to know where you’re heading. People change in isolation of a business strategy will not result in the outcomes you desire. Therefore, begin with the business strategy, making sure that the People function is at the table and not an afterthought.

No one has a crystal ball and can say definitively what the future looks like, but by working through future scenarios and their impact on your organisation, you can identify the extent of change required and appropriate timescales to do so. Involving those at the whole level of the organisation and external stakeholders, helps to test the robustness of such exercises and gain buy in at the outset to what may lie ahead and test outcomes as you go.


2 Understand your own culture

It is common to find that organisations spend time looking at what their competitors are doing rather than understanding their own culture and employee needs. If they do look outside, it may be to organisations with a reputation of being ‘the best’, identify the tangible factors they have and then importing them into the organisation. However, flexible benefit plans and work places, beanbags and table tennis tables won’t automatically make people more engaged and organisations more effective. Words like ‘innovative’, ‘diverse’, ‘forward looking’ might feature in candidate attraction campaigns as those are the people you want. However, if the experience in the workplace does not match this ‘sell’, such people will not be hanging around.

Be honest. Use your data, talk to people and understand the gap between where you are now and where you want to be. Not all people will see things the same way. Be prepared to listen. It may be challenging and take time, but the change you want to see will be more likely to ‘stick’.


3 Use your data

The organisation has a wealth of information at its fingertips. However, not all know how to use it or are measuring it against the old world of work rather than looking at trends and changes to show how the organisation might be moving towards a new way of working. As set out above, people change quicker than organisations. Looking at the data can provide the insight into what people are actually doing on a day to day basis, rather than what their role profile, line manager or business head may believe. You may have more of an innovation culture than you imagined. It is also an opportunity to challenge myths.

For example, in a recruitment market where the paying out of accrued bonuses is part of a standard remuneration package, does it still bear out that attrition peaks at bonus time or is it spread more evenly through the year, therefore forming a part of an ongoing engagement and retention strategy.

Data is also important in measuring success. Seeing how trends are changing, both positively and negatively, illustrate impact. At the very least, it should be prompting the question ‘why?’.

Another consideration around data is expecting perfection. Repeated data cleansing delays decision making at the outset. Instead, the data can be refined as you go as more information comes to light and you have a greater understanding of what the important drivers are. When dealing with an unpredictable future, looking for perfection is an unnecessary, but tempting, rabbit hole. However, it is important to understand what the weaknesses are so that these can be taken into account when analysed.


4 Engage the right people

This is not just looking at within the organisation but also beyond it. Do not forget about customers, suppliers and key external stakeholders. Internally, it needs to include those with responsibility of all key areas, as well as the business. This should include those at all levels of an organisation, identifying both audiences and targeted levels of engagement. Practising cohesiveness and collaboration will help with understanding of how this should be reflected culturally throughout the organisation. The ‘top’ should not and can not have all the answers. Often, external consultants will be necessary to facilitate self-reflection and bring in what is happening externally to broaden discussions.


5 Be transparent

Transparency should also be a founding principle. That does not mean sharing everything with all employees as that can mean unnecessary worry, especially if they’re not privy to the context in which conversations are happening. It means being open about the reasons for change and what it means for the individual. Hard conversations are far easier to have when honest. Treat individuals as adults who can deal with bad news, giving them information to interpret what they are being told and how it impacts them. Resentment and disengagement come from a culture of mistrust or perceived insincerity of message. Be prepared to say ‘I don’t know’ when necessary, including when a decision has yet to be made. This is also the opportunity to show the organisation lives by the values its employees want.


6 Invest and Develop your line managers

The role of the line manager is key. Changing employee expectations without those of line managers is often why many transformation initiatives fail. Development and support of this group is essential with Change Management and Learning & Development working in close partnership. For example, allowing people to increasingly work from home, doesn’t mean that line managers automatically know how to shift to managing against output, despite what policies or guides might say. This creates anxiety on their part and also on the part of the employee, despite the good intentions of the policy. Work being what you do rather than where you do it needs to be embraced by everyone to realise its potential.


7 Incorporate Wellbeing

Do not forget about a holistic approach to employee wellbeing. All initiatives should be assessed through the lens of the impact on the individual and actions to mitigate this. Ten minutes of meditation won’t even out the long days of constant pressure to deliver without enough time or resource. Practical tools and professional advice can help individuals through the change as shaped by their individual experience. However, standalone programmes will have limited success if the processes and organisational culture cultivate a stressful experience by unintentional design. Giving individuals control, reducing uncertainty and time to make big decisions can all help to reduce anxiety.


8 Treat everyone as Adults

The more an organisation treats its people like children, the more they behave as such. Permission to proceed rather than forgiveness to fail inhibits innovation and thinking for oneself. Lengthy whole company policies written to address the behaviour of the individual add to a culture where individuality and innovation are not encouraged. Some people have not needed the permission of the organisation via a job title or description to change the way they work and what they are doing. Others, through the way they have seen others be treated or maybe even experienced themselves, have started to behave like robots ahead of what they see as the inevitability of their role becoming obsolete. They follow processes to the letter, no longer think how that process could be improved because they’ve never been listened to so to paraphrase, they keep quiet and carry on. Managers may get frustrated by the lack of contribution from their teams but it can be difficult to expect an adult relationship when individuals have been increasingly treated like children, without autonomy over their lives.

This organisational ‘unlearning’ is not easy. It challenges existing relationships within the organisation, as well as shifting the basis of decision making, such as policies and processes. Do not underestimate the impact this has right the way through an organisation, especially at the highest levels. Freedom and trust do not necessarily keep pace with seniority and the increased responsibility and accountability. It is often a reason why individuals find themselves leaving the corporate world behind to embrace a start-up culture.

r10 released the Organisations for Adults: The Future of Work and its impact on people paper that sets out what is meant by the Future of Work for the people agenda and how the London insurance market can embrace these, as well as practical examples of changes to the employee life cycle.