About The Author
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Ibrahim Dohni 1 article
SA Jeddah
OCM Manager, ERP Training Manager
Change Management Black Belt, PMP, 6 Sigma Black Belt


Change Management, The Cultural Aspect

What is Change Management?

Change management is the application of methods, tools and techniques in a project realm to move the employees from their well-known and acquainted business culture to a new yet to be realized as new culture and new norm. This new organizational culture is predominantly shaped by the vision of the organization to transform and preserve the existence of the organization.

The Cultural Challenges

Cultural change is challenging and not straight forward to tackle. The main two cultural challenges in these types of projects face are, the human culture and the organizational culture, since the new organizational state will be characterized with new behaviors, new ways of thinking to be adopted by the existing employees of the organization, over the course of the project.

The Human Culture

By definition, the human culture is the set of beliefs, behaviors, and norms that define a society and drives its behaviors. The common factor across cultures, is that humans in general like to settle, have a stable life, and job security. They get used to a certain routine that makes them comfortable, especially the job routine from which they generate their income, and eventually make their living. A change in the job routine makes employees uncomfortable with the new behaviors they have to adopt and get used to, add to that, the change touches their jobs from which they make their living and support their families. Touching people’s source of living triggers fear, a “fear of the unknown”. This is the first challenge.

The Organizational Culture

By definition, an organizational culture is the way the organization does business because it works and achieves what the organizational targets. Organizational culture, is predominantly driven by the top level managers of the company and is greatly shaped by the nature of the business of the organization itself.

Most organizations throughout the world have a three layer architecture. Top Management, where strategic decisions are made and set forth the roadmap of the future of the company. Reporting to Top Management are the middle managers, who translate the strategy into tactical plans, in turn they manage and direct the employees, who are the third and the lower of the three organizational levels. These employees are the ones who carry out the tactical plans set by middle managers to achieve the strategic objectives of the top management.

Assessing Culture

What tools, skills, and techniques to be used by change management in the change management project, are highly dependent on what works with the existing cultures. So, one of the prerequisites of managing a successful change management project is to understand the cultures, both individual and organizational. Pace and lead, to be able to lead the employees into the new culture, you have to understand where they are now and devise plans to get them where the company wants them to be, this is the journey that they will travel through and it has to be interesting and enjoyable. If it is not, then probably it will lead to a lot of resistance, fears and maybe not being able to reach the new culture.

How to assess culture?

Change managers use different methods to assess the culture, these methods are

  • Interviews
  • Surveys
  • Floor walking

Each of the methods has its pros and cons, a combination of all is ideal to get as much clarity on the existing culture. The more experienced the change manager the faster he/she will be able to capture characteristics that will enable him/her to understand and assess the culture and start developing the change management plans.

The change manager, should also be careful by selecting the group to be interviewed, the recommended target group should be from the different levels of the organization, from different departments and regions (if the company has many locations). Different age groups is also an important dimension in selecting the people to be interviewed, the reason is that there will generations gaps in companies which has a combination of old experienced personnel and fresh new tech savvy graduates.

What questions to ask?

Depending on the nature of the change project, the questions should be formulated to fit the purpose of the project and they should be aligned with the organizational vision set by top management. Below are some general questions that might be asked:

  • What is the vision of the company?
  • Where the company will be in the next 3 to five years?
  • What are the challenges the company is facing now? How can they be tackled?
  • How can you describe the culture of the company? Is it target based? Policy based? Customer satisfaction based?...
  • Do you see the benefits of the proposed change? Do you think it is good?
  • Do employees see the change as “to them” or “for them”? Why?
  • Do you think this is the right time to apply such change?
  • Has the company undergone major changes before? What was the experience like?

Measures – Outcomes of the culture assessment phase

Meeting, interviewing and discussing the culture of the company will enrich the change manager and consultant with insights from the different audience selected from the company. The ultimate aim should not shift focus from the primary purpose of the phase which is culture assessment to gather enough information which will be the basis for the change management plan. The output of this phase is to understand and measure:

  1. Where do the executives want the company to be in the short and long term?
  2. How do the executives see the company’s culture now?
  3. Do they believe they have the right staff who can get the company where they want?
  4. Do different levels/ departments in the company know/ understand what the executives want?
  5. Are there proper communication channels that reach all employees?
  6. Is there an alignment across the organization on, why there is a need for change?
  7. How do employees see their executives and line managers? How do they perceive them?

Analyzing the answers to the above questions, will give a clear indication of the next moves for the change management consultant/ manager. If there is any misalignment / gap / misconception in any of the findings of the above questions, plans should be put in place to bridge the gaps, realign and clear any misunderstanding. This will be the subject of the next chapter.

Internal Assistance

A change manager / consultant leading a change management project should have an appointed, well experienced employee from the organization undergoing a change management project. This internal help will provide assistance to the change manager in gathering information, setting the plans, and schedules in the cultural assessment phase of the project and the subsequent phases.


Published at pmmagazine.net with the consent of Ibrahim Dohni