Mapping a through route to culture change

Used with insight, stakeholder mapping can identify and deploy an organisation’s most powerful staff influencers to help overcome resistance to a cultural spring clean 


Whether it’s frequent rebranding exercises or compulsory signing in and out, well-meaning business initiatives dreamed up by management on a Friday all too often bomb at the coalface the following week.

Yet despite widespread acceptance that cultural mismatch is invariably a factor when business transformations fail, the damaging divisions remain. 

Understanding why change may instinctively get the thumbs down requires emotional intelligence, as well as the ability to identify who in the team is an influencer or a road blocker. Stakeholder mapping could be part of the answer.

In helping launch Standard Chartered’s Ministry of Common Sense, an initiative to rid the bank of stifling red tape, transformation consultant Martin Lindstrom used mapping to pinpoint his secret weapon.

“Every organisation has an immune system, a defence mechanism against change that is often linked to individual agendas, conflicting key performance indicators or unclear instructions and this creates a second, invisible layer within the business,” he says.

“Stakeholder mapping sets out to understand this unseen ‘iceberg’ and the influence that individuals within it have on the organisation as a whole.” 

In the case of Standard Chartered, it showed that head of governance and control Gail Ursell, then a senior leader in the human resources team, was both a key influencer and a “doer”, among the “small number of people who actually make things happen”.

One of her ideas was to pretend she was a document and to “travel” around the bank to understand why the standard authorisation process took up to eight days. It was eventually cut to six hours.

“In releasing the bank from its immune system, Gail, who had been at the bank for ages and had the respect of colleagues, not only came up with the Ministry idea, but was a key element in its creation,” says Lindstrom. 

Following its 2016 launch, the scheme proved “a groundbreaking initiative, vacuuming one stupidity out of the bank at a time and transforming the overall culture”, he adds.

Emotional attunement

Charting who a business’s real movers and shakers are – and they are rarely confined to the executive floor – doesn’t necessarily require high-tech solutions. Far more fundamental than the choice between software or pen and paper is empathy. 

Software development company Sopra Steria, which has transferred 6,000 employees to home working during the coronavirus pandemic, is using a people-first approach to make it a permanent feature, says HR director Karen Finn.

“Stakeholder mapping is both standard practice and fundamental for any transformation project we deliver and has proven invaluable in supporting our communities and overall business continuity as we have shifted our ways of working,” she says.

Transformation is as much about emotional engagement as mapping, she believes. “Gathering workforce insight shouldn’t be transactional. It’s vital to talk to the different communities, listen to their concerns and tailor communications, policies and working strategies around the findings,” says Finn. 

“By encouraging a culture of openness and inclusivity, organisations not only open up conversations and channels to better understand employees’ motivations, but can also create a willingness to go the extra mile.”

Creating a visual representation of influencers and blockers can be useful in delivering or managing a routine project, but when it comes to culture change, it may not be enough, according to change management consultant Andy Brett. 

“When we are looking to impact a cultural shift, what we’re really talking about is influencing how all those involved go about their daily interactions, something which is beyond the control of anyone but them themselves,” he says.

“While stakeholder maps can sometimes be too linear to capture the complexities involved, more useful are social network maps, which rather than tracking relationships look for points of social influence.”

Brett believes this approach can identify individuals who may not fit into a standard stakeholder map, perhaps because of the nature of their job role, yet who can have a marked impact on how work gets done.

Mapping for transformation

One example he gives is of a large financial services organisation, which was looking to carry out a fundamental redesign of processes in a central department, a change that impacted the whole organisation.

“If a standard approach to mapping had been used, those involved would largely have been drawn from the area controlling the process, when it was apparent it was the end-users who needed to adapt,” says Brett.

By agreeing the behaviour change required with this group before the alteration, “change was welcomed and adopted smoothly, rather than being imposed and then subtly resisted”, he adds.

For Lindstrom, the majority of deep insights into a firm’s culture come not from formal meetings, but from the “winks, hints and nudges” that will often be conveyed in after-hours conversations.

Asked by a client to solve the problem of an unpopular automation programme, which had failed to deliver via a top-down approach, he began working from the bottom up or what he calls “the back door”.

“Halfway up the system we hit the frozen middle, people who were angry at being squeezed for time and resources,” says Lindstrom.

One of them, who had been at the firm for 35 years and had been identified by stakeholder mapping as a key influencer, shared her frustration one evening about her section never being consulted when change was proposed. 

“We made her our chief of change and suddenly the immune system broke down,” says Lindstrom. “Her colleagues decided that if this individual was on board, there were good reasons to back the automation and, after just 36 days, the mission was completed.”

Achieving cultural alignment during transformation

UK insurance broker Aston Lark has completed close to 30 acquisitions over the past four years, including the 2018 merger of Aston Scott and Lark Group. 

“While we didn’t think of it as stakeholder mapping, our determination to achieve cultural alignment among our new workforce of 550 people involved just that and it was transformational,” says chief executive Peter Blanc.

Workshops were held in both firms to discover what staff believed were the most important values of their organisation and to describe them using a series of keywords.

Subsequently, influencers from both organisations, identified via mapping, were invited to meet and share the results.

“As a result of the sharing of outputs, we discovered that one key theme emerged as the most commonly used term in all the workshop activity,” says Blanc.

“Care, for our employees, our clients and our insurer partners came across loud and clear as the most important aspect of what each company stood for and this revelation was a pivotal moment for us.”

By ensuring that everyone “felt on the same page” in terms of beliefs and values, any inbuilt resistance to change was minimised, he says.

“To ensure the alignment on values translated itself into effective implementation, we employed a dedicated, high-level project manager to map each element of the merger transformation project and, crucially, every part of it linked back in some way to the concept of care,” says Blanc.

“As all key employees had themselves come up with the word, it was very difficult for anyone to object and we later introduced a new awards scheme to help ‘live’ out the care theme.”

Weekly Merger Star and monthly Merger Superstar awards helped “reinforce our efforts to make everyone in the organisation feel as though they were part of something special”, he adds.