Pay attention to weak signals: W Warner Burke

Last Updated: Mon, May 06, 2013 04:07 hrs
Employees work on floor of outsourcing company WNS in Mumbai

Even a slight change in the domain of the company's performance, such as a new technology or a dip in customer satisfaction, should not be ignored, Burke tells Ankita Rai

Do single-fix changes, such as the introduction of new teams or new processes, help in changing an organisation's culture?
They can contribute to changing an organisation's culture but should be introduced and conducted in a manner that fits with a broader and more comprehensive culture change effort. In other words, the introduction of new teams and new processes should be seen as a leverage for the larger change effort.

What are the frequent mistakes companies make while trying to change their organisational culture?
The most common mistake is lack of persistence and perseverance. Culture change is difficult and takes time. For instance, changing the culture at British Airways took at least five years.

In the face of difficulties in bringing about the change, such as planned initiatives that do not go according to the plan, people tend to complain that the effort is simply not working. The antidote to such reaction is to ' on top of problems' that arise during the early implementation phase and fix them quickly so that momentum is not lost.

Your book says companies that have experienced success in the past find it the hardest to change even when the external environment changes. How should such companies stay in touch with their external environment?
First, make certain that the company is not overly centralised and pyramidal regarding its structure. While a company cannot afford to be "flat" concerning its hierarchy, a more decentralised organisation means that there are more people in touch with the environment and can directly monitor what is going on with customers, competitors and stakeholders.

Second, consider the concept of "weak signals". A weak signal is a slight change in some domain of the company's performance - a dip in customer satisfaction, some new technology in the industry that looks interesting but not earthshaking.

Often companies ignore these signals. Any one signal by itself may not be the emergence of a more serious issue, but a plethora of weak signals may be worrisome, especially if there is a pattern among them. Pay attention to weak signals.

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