According to the Harvard Business Review, change management has been a recognized discipline for over half a century. Yet, despite the unbelievable investment companies have made in tools and training, most studies show that 60-70% of organizational change projects fail —and this failure rate has gone unchanged for decades. The saying failure is not an option as you can see is not working here.

The Harvard article suggests that, given this evidence, we need to not only go back to the basics, but also look at the role of management. It implies that we’ve allowed managers to outsource change management to HR specialists and consultants instead of taking accountability themselves. I’m not saying the professionals are not helpful, but in a time where everything is changing so fast no one can know more about your company than you.

Of course, that got me thinking … Are we doing enough before we start implementing organizational changes to ensure their success? And, how can the C-Suite better affect change?

Enter: Culture Mapping

In researching this blog, I found an article by Dave Gray, Founder of XPLANE. As far as I can tell, he and his team coined “Culture Mapping.” (They even have an entire LinkedIn group dedicated to Culture Mapping!)

“Imagine that your change initiative is a large fleet of ships that is about to go into a relatively uncharted waters (your organization’s culture). You would be stupid to just take the ship into the harbor without some advance scouting. Culture Mapping is like sending in a team with a fast, motorized rubber raft, to scope out the harbor and plant big red flags to mark the rocks under the surface ...To map the territory, so you can navigate the safer waters and give your larger mission the best possible chances for success,” says Gray.

I love this. But, how does a manager take this idea and turn it into real-life action? Below are some of the steps Gray suggests ...

#1. Identify Organizational Subcultures and Their Leaders  

What subcultures exist within your organization? (And in our industry we know this runs deep.) In a commercial real estate office, for example, you might have agents, support staff, accounting and operations. Working with these groups, managers can identify a handful of people to represent each subculture during the Culture Mapping process.

#2. Brainstorm and Ask for Input

Here’s where it sounds like it can get a bit tricky. Gray suggests that managers and the C-Suite need to stay out of brainstorming and “constructive complaining” sessions, as true feedback can only come when subculture representatives feel free to share their true opinions.

Without having to hire a consultant, I would suggest putting together a team that runs these sessions and reports the findings to the manager/C-Suite. The purpose here is to find out what cultural roadblocks may hinder, slow or stop the change project. There are no wrong answers to change.

#3. Ask the Right Questions

Gray and his team stress the importance of asking the right questions. “Ask the team: what causes and influences our behaviors? What are you as a leader saying or doing to enable these behaviors? How are people rewarded for their behaviors in your culture (both positive and negative)? What are the unwritten rules? How does your current process help or hinder your culture? This is the space to assess your current culture, and the space where you can design the culture that you want.”

Putting it all in Perspective

The culture of your organization can have such a huge impact on how change initiatives are adopted, the type of work you do, and the overall morale and engagement of your team. These first few steps in the Culture Mapping process are just the beginning.

Take a look at some of the work Gary and his team are doing. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you are (or aren’t) doing some of this in your organization —and how you think we can better impact change in our commercial real estate industry.