Bringing about culture change for decarbonisation

Heather Taylor identifies the challenges you may face, and suggests ways to overcome them.

Understanding the culture of an organisation and attempting to bring about any form of change is a challenge for any organisation. It all begins with recognising the importance culture plays within the organisation and with its people, and starts with the importance of fostering a good company culture.

What is culture?

Culture is based on the interactions and actions of the people that make up a group and can be defined as ‘the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society’. The term is often used to describe different sectors and communities (e.g. organisational, national, geographical, or economical). However, the same underlying principles can be applied to any group or sector. It is the underpinning shared values, norms and behaviours which mould, shape and delineate specific cultures. Within the military it can also be described as a shared institutional ethos which influences expected behaviours.

How does this relate to decarbonisation?

Most challenges that surround decarbonisation focus on the energy supplies themselves, however we also need to consider the energy end-user, their energy demands and how they consume it. Here we need to consider the cultural aspects and societal aspects of energy use, especially within organisations. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) will have to find new and innovative ways to decarbonise, and with that there will be changes to the way people are used to working - be that through greater use of digital collaboration, a more energy-conscious mindset, or adopting new technologies. Even the simple transition from driving a petrol or diesel car to an electric one can be met with resistance, and brings with it significant training and familiarisation needs. These needs will be magnified when the nature of the change is more complex. The introduction of new ways of working will only succeed if accompanied by effective cultural management.

What is cultural change?

Organisational culture can be hard to define and measure, as it is something which is often ‘felt’ rather than being consciously explicit. It is a shared perception of how things are and how things are done amongst the people that make up that organisation. It is shaped by the people in the group and their behaviours and reactions to incidents.

There are several ways in which you can measure organisational culture. One such method is Cameron and Quinn’s Competing Values Framework (CVF) (see below). A framework such as this helps to identify the structure of an organisation’s culture to determine an organisation’s culture profile. This can provide a baseline from which to measure change, and a basis for establishing a cultural management programme.

Cultural management requires significant expertise and experience in the industry in question. It can be especially challenging when attempting to introduce change within an established set of cultural norms. Changing culture takes a great deal of strategising and planning and some questions that may arise from discussions are:

  • Is your organisation ready for change?
  • Do the people in your organisation understand why this change needs to happen?
  • What can we do to overcome these challenges?
  • How do we aid cultural change?

Ensuring that your people are prepared and ready for upcoming change within the organisation is key.

What are the challenges that you may face?

People generally find any change quite difficult and unnerving, so understanding what challenges you may face when looking at developing a cultural change programme is key to addressing these. Some challenges that you could face from your personnel could include:  

  • Resistance to change – i.e. I don’t want to change
  • Lack of motivation to change – i.e. Why should we change?
  • Lack of ownership of the change – i.e. What is in it for me to change?
  • Complacency – i.e. I don’t need to change, everything is fine as it is.

What are some suggestions to counteract these challenges?

  • Collaborate – Culture change does not happen only from the top down but also from the bottom up and involving all members of the organisation at every level is crucial.
  • Communicate – Explain why and what those shared goals are. Be transparent about what change is wanted, how this change may be implemented, the reasons behind why the change is needed and what benefit this change will have for everyone.
  • Have a clear vision – Be clear and transparent about the vision of change, and what the ultimate end goal is.
  • Make gradual changes – Let each stage of change be assimilated and embedded into new behaviours, this will help people accept and sustain that change and build from it.
  • Keep it simple – It is important not to let any change revert back to the way it was, so try to make it simple for people to keep with the new ways of working.
  • Motivate – Empower your people to accept and embrace change, and build in positive reinforcement, incentives and disincentives.
  • Lead by example – Embrace the concept of social proof and have the leaders openly demonstrate the new ways of working. Not just ‘do what I say’ but also ‘follow what I do’.

Some techniques will be more successful than others, depending on your own internal culture. Understanding that cultural change is challenging and does not happen quickly are key elements. It is not a simple task, it takes significant strategy and planning, but fostering the right culture will be vital to delivering and accepting any change

Interested in more insights into defence decarbonisation?

Check out the previous episode in our blog series, by Chris Critchley, Technological solutions for decarbonisation. Then read the next episode, Defence sustainable procurement, by Sam White.

Missed any of the previous episodes? Catch up here.

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