Every change is a culture change !






Culture in the simplest terms is – ‘How we do things here’

Ask yourself a simple question – ‘Am I doing anything that will change the way things are done here’. If your answer is Yes, then be rest assured that you are undertaking a culture change.

Do this for any and every change you are trying to introduce in an organisational environment and you will be surprised how many times the answer is Yes. You might suddenly realise that you are actually impacting the organisational culture with most of your change initiatives. The question is why does it matter and what can you do differently?

It matters because it can help explain user behaviour in most of the cases. In many of the change initiatives, even a simple logical change fails to land and users just refuse to adopt the change. Change managers are left scratching their heads to no avail. From my perspective the explanation is mostly straightforward -Your change is not in sync with ‘how we do things here’. What makes it worse that we have never realised this and done nothing to be in-sync with ‘How we do things here’ aka Culture. We might have looked at the change as a business process change, technology change, Organisational restructure or many other things but not as a ‘culture change’.

Even when we realise that every change is a culture change, many a times another question still goes unanswered – ‘So what?’. It is all good to know something but what is the point if it does not help our cause?

The moment you realise that every change is cultural change, you can start looking at it from the Cultural lens. You questions and the answers you are seeking change. You start unearthing deep rooted fears and apprehensions that are stopping people from adopting change. Instead of focusing on just the symptoms aka ‘adoption stats’, you will start diagnosing the problem.

Let’s look at a simple example

Bottom-up sales reporting through a system vs reporting through excel – On the face of it , this seems like a technology challenge or at best behaviour challenge. Think again! The real challenge is around transparency and fear of being exposed/ judged. ‘The way things are done’ are going to be changed and people are not ready. Yes a bad system might be causing the issues and the IT support might not be good enough but if users cannot get over their deep rooted fears around being exposed..

As I said at the start, if we look carefully every change is a culture change. Just that in most cases we take time to realise it..

Football, Cricket and Change – Why Narrative matters!







I cannot seem to get over one particular article I read recently- ‘The Virat Kohli Paradox. It has nothing to do with business or change or technology but somehow it stayed with me. The article essentially looks at why Virat Kohli (the current Indian cricket team captain) does not appeal to the Indian cricket fans in the same way as ‘Sachin Tendulkar’ did. Explanation the article provides – ‘The Narrative and how it does or does not appeal to the audience’.

Why is it that we can relate to few things, people and stories more than others? Why do we allow some individuals to lead us and not others? Why do we get behind some movements but could not be bothered about others? Why do we rally behind few change initiatives but just resist others? I think the answer to these questions lies in the narrative.

For everyone out there who is not a cricket fan and doesn’t really care about Virat Kohli, let’s look at a different example, may be in football. Why do fans love to see an academy product or a ‘local lad’ playing in the league for the club? Why does a Harry Cane or a Steven Gerrard get the most love from Fans while the big money buys struggle to build connections? The answer again lies in the ‘Narrative’.

Now I did not grow up watching football but I am sure many football fans played football growing up and had that one dream – ‘ One day I want to play for my local league team’. Based on my own worship of Sachin Tendulkar, I can guess that as fans they see a Harry Cane or a Steven Gerrard or a John Terry as the one who gets to live their dream and that is the Narrative. They can relate to these players in a way that they can’t with others. They cannot relate to an equally remarkable narrative of a foreign player who immigrated to a foreign country and is trying to survive in an alien environment. Some of the foreign players do develop that special bond with fans but it takes special efforts and time. Without those efforts and time there would not be a Henry or a Zola…

In my own case, I can relate to Sachin Tendulkar because his narrative appeals to me. He was born in a family not so much different than my own. He believed in hard work, dedication and conquered the world just based on that. Now I will definitely never do that but Tendulkar gave me the belief that it can be done.

I guess I am yet to tell you why I am not able to get this particular article out of my head. I work in Change Management and my primary responsibility is to help people change. There are times when I am puzzled when people do not get behind a particular change. Everything seems to be logically correct but the change just does not appeal to the recipients. This particular article made me think that this had something to do with the ‘Narrative’.

An organisation introduces a number of changes in its environment but as a narrative only few appeal to the audiences. There only few changes that make the connection which makes individuals get behind the change. Every change has a narrative but may be organisations do not make enough effort to relate the narrative with the audiences. More often than not organisations do not answer the questions – ‘Why should I bother?’, ‘What is in it for me’, ‘What does this mean for me’.

Just like footballers, few changes come with the right narrative. These changes are things that people always wanted and rooted for. For others, those need special efforts and time. If time and efforts are on offer, those changes can also form a narrative that appeals to the recipients. Finally it all comes down to the narrative!

Want successful change? Pick the right problem!


  • Pick a problem that is of the right size
  • Pick a problem that is worth solving
  • Pick a problem that can be solved and in finite time
  • Pick a problem that can be quantified
  • Pick a problem that impacts lives

Ask these questions because people will only change if they see you solving their problems. They know that some problems are too big and cannot be solved here and now. They also know that there are problems that can be solved and solved in near future. If they see the proposed change as something that will solve the later problems, they will be willing.

For me the success or failure of a change initiative rests on choosing the right problem to solve. Too often organisations set change initiatives to solve problems that are too big or too vague. These problems are either not understood by an average employee or are at too higher level to impact the life of any average employee. Let me explain this with an example

‘To sustain in the current market place we need to adopt a culture of innovation’

That actually means nothing. If you test this problem against all the conditions that I stated at the start of this post, you will realise that this one fails on almost every test. Can I change the culture in short term? Is the problem of right size? Can the problem be quantified? Can the problem be solved in finite time? Answer to all of these questions is ‘No’ and that is why usually such big statements do not get enough engagement and reaction.

We need to break these big statements into smaller pieces. Each of these pieces needs to pass all the tests that I mentioned at the start of the post. Let’s relook at our statement again.

Here is how I can look at the same problem in pieces

‘To generate at least 100 innovators and 1000 viable ideas from within the organisation’

Now that is a problem that can be solved and is worth solving. It is also a problem that can be measured and benefits can be felt. Employees can get excited about this problem and the impact can be felt. Will this lead to the desired culture change? The probability is good. People can rally behind such problems as these are much more tangible than the vague statements of vision.

Give the concept a chance. Take a look at how you have defined your ‘change problem’. Check your definition against the tests I mentioned. If it fails then maybe it is worth redefining your problem. After all if your problem cannot be measured, solved in finite time and cannot impact lives directly, why bother?

Stop asking me to wear that shirt (or use that technology)

Once upon a time, my mother bought me a shirt. More often than not, I hate clothes bought for me and this shirt was not different. For no particular reason I resisted wearing that shirt. May be it was old-fashioned or may be I did not like the colour; something about that Shirt did not sit right with me.

For years my mother kept asking me to wear that shirt. With every reminder, I hated that shirt more. My mother is a persistent woman but finally she gave up and stopped asking about the shirt. Here is what happened after that

One fine day, I ended up in a situation where I could not find any clean/ ironed shirt to wear (yes that happens to me) and as fate would have it, the only shirt available to me was the one my mother gave me. I gathered the courage, put on the shirt and went on with my day.

‘Hey, nice shirt!’

‘Why don’t you wear such shirts more, they look good on you’

‘This definitely does not look like your shopping. Looks good’

Some of the things I got to hear that day. Not sure all of them were compliments but I will live with that.

I came back home and tried my level best to figure out why I hated that shirt. The best I could come up with was this –

‘I was a young rebellious kid who did not like the fact that his mom bought him something without asking him first’

Now replace the shirt with technology and my mother with any change/ transformation managers in your organisation. You will get the same situation

  • You will mostly hate the technology procured by the organisation
  • You will hate it more as a result of the ‘adoption stats’ and constant reminders to ‘use the technology’
  • You will one day be forced to use the technology and if everything is right, you will actually find it beneficial.
  • You (and the change manager) will be wondering why you hated the technology so much to begin with.

I think we as change managers need to ditch the traditional adoption measures and focus on creating situations where there is a reason or at least an excuse to adopt the technology. We also need to find ways to ensure that end-users feel that they bought the technology along with the organisation. It is a difficult thing to achieve but I think it is mission critical.

As humans, we have tendency to hate new things when those are forced on us. Asking ‘why you are not using it’ just adds oil to the fire. I am sure none of us want that. My mother knew that shirt will look good on me, she just could not find a way for me to try it on. In my case luck helped and I ended up wearing that shirt, I am not sure if organisations can depend on luck when it comes to technology adoption!

How I learned to drive and what it means for technology adoption !

20150710_162435My wife has been following up with me for past 8 years to learn driving. I never took her seriously till 2016 and by end of 2016 I have become a fairly confident driver. You must be wondering what changed in 2016?

  • My wife gave me the final ultimatum in 2016?
  • I watched F1 and was inspired?
  • I got fed up of the delays on Southern Railways 🙂 and decided to drive to work?

Nope. None of the above. Here is the real reason – I moved into a new home

There isn’t a single grocery store within walking distance of my new home and that meant for the first time in my life I felt ‘the need to drive’. To begin with, I had to learn to drive and it took me a while. I think it took me the longest among my friends to learn driving. I failed the driving test once and bumped my car into my own driveway during the initial few days.

What happened next was interesting – I actually started enjoying driving! Granted that it did not happen overnight but as my confidence grew I finally decided to go on a ‘long drive’. I dreaded it but it was a nice experience. There were moments when I felt that driving is not all bad and then when I was cruising on one of the beautiful roads, I said to myself – ‘I can enjoy this’ . For 34 years of my life, I hated travelling by road. I properly hated driving and always looked upon it as additional work which someone else can do for me. If I can somehow like driving then for me anything is possible.

Here is what I learned from my driving experience and I think it is applicable to any and every technology adoption program

Users have to feel the need to use the technology. In my case it was my new home but every user has to have a solid reason to use the technology you are offering. Only few will use the technology offered by an organisation because they like to. Others will wait till they have to!

Not everyone will adopt at the same pace. There needs to be time, money and resources to support different needs of different users. I needed more time to learn driving and it was Ok. The important thing is that we all finally make it.

Even with the need established, it will not be easy. I bumped my car and your users will make similar mistakes. That should be acceptable as long as they are making progress. Creating environment where users are allowed to make mistakes is crucial.

There will be moments when every user will think ‘this stuff works’. Those moments need to be nurtured, harnessed and celebrated. These are the moments which become stories and will be told across the organisation.

Enjoying technology is the epitome of adoption. It is the most difficult trick in corporate technology adoption. I thought I will learn how to drive, will actually drive but never thought I will ever enjoy driving; I actually did. The key for me was to have an experience that I felt good about. You need to aim for those experiences for your users. If they get it, they will enjoy the technology and not just use it!

Indian demonetisation – The perfect case study for change management!

  1. Right intentions – check
  2. Questionable execution – check
  3. Majority users agreeing in principle – check
  4. Majority of users suffering – check
  5. Lack of clear KPIs to measure benefits – check
  6. Project team constantly coming up with new ideas to tackle situation – check
  7. Obvious lack of planning – check
  8. Project getting muddled up in politics – check
  9. Benefits likely to be questioned – check

This in short is the story of every change management program and it seems a program as big as India’s Demonetisation is no different.

I had the pleasure of experiencing this change management program as a user and for all the right intentions of the project team, I was left with a feeling that this was not well planned and users were not at the centre of this particular change management program.

The project team (government) kept insisting that ‘pain’ is necessary for the gain – getting rid of black money.  As a user I am convinced that if better planned, the pain could have been reduced for the users.  For a program of this size, the last-minute thinking on multiple fronts was astonishing

In my discussions with various people on the ground, I heard various valid questions. Here are 3 of them

  • Did the project team not foresee issues at toll booths and other places. Why was chaos necessary to prompt action?
  • Did anyone not think while designing the 2000 rs note that the ATM machines will have to be re-calibrated?
  • Why were expectations not better managed? Why do the BAU ( business as usual) timelines keep changing? Why have few days become few weeks and now potentially few months?

In each of the change management project, users have similar questions. What seems to be common sense to them, seems to be alien to the project team. What seem to be big issues for the users are usually trivial to the project team. Project teams more often than assume that users have to suffer and make little or no effort to reduce the pain. Users in this and every case are sensible and want to support the change, if only they are shown some empathy !!

Note : – I am  not a supporter of or against the demonetisation move. My views here are strictly as a change management professional.


People hate change! Do they really?


I have been reading a lot around the subject of change management. Almost every model, approach , paradigm starts with the basic assumption that ‘people don’t like change‘.  I for one don’t completely agree with that basic assumption and I am dedicating this post to explaining why. I think people don’t hate change, they just hate badly executed changes.

Here is my fundamental question

‘If people queue up to buy the latest phone, why don’t they queue up to benefit from the changes that organisations launch’

Surely buying a phone is a big change. New phone means new accessories, new features, new chargers plus the effort to get your head around all of that.  That is a lot of change and a lot of effort. Why don’t people hate that? Why don’t people resist that change?

Now replace ‘phone’ in the above situation with ‘house’, ‘car’ or anything else and the same can be argued. In these scenarios people seem to enjoy the change and in fact look forward to the change. Why then the same people resist change when it comes to their professional life?

let’s take the same phone and think about a OS upgrade. I bet lot of us have hate those. On the face of it, these upgrades are supposed to make our phones perform better but they rarely do to begin with. Many a times we are not aware of the potential problems and there are times when we regret the day we decided to upgrade the OS.  New Phone and New OS are both essentially change but I am sure while most of us love the former and we dread the later.  I wonder why is that. Now if you had bought a new Samsung Note 7, then it is possible that next time you will be less excited about even a new phone. Guess that tells us something – People don’t hate change they just hate badly executed change.

Let me say that again ‘people don’t really hate change’. They in fact love change when it comes in the right proportion, at the right time and in the right way.  If I can walk up to my employees and offer them something that they know will make their life better, I don’t think they will hate the change. The problem is that employees are never presented change in a way that they can embrace and enjoy.

Most change management projects start with the grim view of employees i .e. they don’t like change and more often than not it is downhill from there.  Instead of looking at how we can present the change differently, we curse and moan about the users. Many a times we conclude that employees are the biggest problem and for better part of the project we try to solve that problem.

Here is a different way of approaching this

Let’s start with a different assumption – ‘People love change’. If a proposed change is not working then the issue if with the change and not with people. This will make you approach the problem in a different way. You will try to create a change package that is of the right proportion, at the right time and the right way. You will keep trying till you are able to excite your users about the change. You will aim for the day when people will fight with each other to be the first recipient of the change you are offering. I am not saying that you can make every change exciting. There are changes which will never fall in this category but most can.

We need changes to be like a new phone (not note 7 🙂 ) and not like the new OS 🙂