Taking on the Culture Challenge

James Murphy (Director, Chalcroft Digital, ex RICS) was our first guest speaker kicking off the day with his presentation on 'Taking on the Culture Challenge'. During his time as Director of Communications at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, James oversaw an internal shift in digital governance and facilitated wider organisational culture change so brought many years of experience to his seminar.

He highlighted that culture is typically the biggest barrier to organisational performance and often the reason many digital 'transformation' projects fail. Whilst acknowledging that culture is one of the hardest things to fix and get right, James shared some useful insights. James went on to define exactly what culture was, highlighting its intangible nature, pointing out that it’s a collective sum of many parts… including values, beliefs, technology, types of people, management style, national culture, vision, environment, habits, expectation… to name just a few. He also warned against the perils of talking about culture change rather than it being led by behavioural change and not making culture change a 'programme' in itself. He explained how culture is caught more than taught, with new hires assimilating what they see, but needing to harness them as 'agents of change'.

He then talked about the common perceptions of a membership body, bringing smiles and a few laughs of acknowledgement before encouraging organisations to create perceptions that are credible, and are reinforced with evidence and proof. James referred to the label many membership organisations use about themselves 'existing to serve members' saying that this kind of language is unhelpful in setting a tone and the resulting behaviour and expectations, encouraging the use of language that rather sets the correct level of expectations.

Central to a positive culture is engagement. However, we shouldn’t expect a rise in engagement if we can’t articulate a clear proposition. And we shouldn’t expect to articulate a clear proposition, if we don’t have internal alignment. Culture itself is the product of many things, so culture change, to be effective must touch on all layers of an organisation - internally and externally. We shouldn’t expect change externally, if we neglect our internal culture.

To compound the issue, recent research MIT Sloan Management Review shows that an organisation’s strategic alignment is merely 51% at its highest level. Worryingly, this falls sharply when the same visions were questioned with their direct reports, and continues to decline the further down the structure you go. James encouraged us to approach educating our organisations from both ends of the pay scale!

James suggested that if we want to attract the right members, and the right staff, another key area for review is the organisation’s internal processes – so, for example,  membership and recruitment processes. He suggested that a great test is to apply for membership or a vacancy, whats the user experience like?