For organisations to not just adapt, but thrive through the Fourth Industrial Revolution (AKA Industry 4.0), leaders need to think beyond how to best operationalise innovation (its “hardware” and “software”). They need to think about facilitating the necessary cultural redesign (“heartware”) required for sustainable change.

Leaders need to create workplaces where the collective behaviours of its people model those that are congruent with a growth mindset—where people are adaptable, resilient, purpose-driven and empowered to express their ideas and take calculated risks.

Results from a survey by Bain & Company showed that 68% of leaders acknowledge that culture is the cornerstone of its competitive edge. 9 out of 10 CEOs believe it’s the most critical factor after business strategy, while 3 in 4 say culture is changeable and they need to change it. Yet only 10% succeed in doing so. 

In this article, we will share four key strategies that you should consider in planning and facilitating your cultural redesign initiatives to optimise buy-in, minimise resistance and effect lasting and meaningful change.

Strategy #1: Start from the top.

Innovate and elevate productivity


“People may doubt what you say, but they will always believe what you do.”.

– Lewis Case

When managers tasked with the challenge to improve quality and yields, innovate and elevate productivity face a wall of resistance from their people, there is too often a tendency to conclude that their problems lie with their people. They blame this resistance specifically on their people’s attitude, lack of commitment and motivation. Common laments include:

  •  “People should speak up and express their ideas more.”
  •  “They saw the quality warning signs and yet did nothing to stop it.”
  •  “The guys who have been around for a while now keep saying, ‘That’s how it’s always done here.’” 
  • “Why have SOPs when they don’t adhere to it?”

And yet, the most common question we have from staff attending our cultural redesign workshops is, “Have our managers attended this workshop?”

Managers could do well to often reflect on whether their style of leadership empowers people to trust their lead, to drive initiatives, express ideas and challenge the status quo.

Start your cultural redesign initiative by aligning your most senior leaders on:

  • The urgency for change
  • Why the status quo is unacceptable
  • The present and desired state of culture (including a specific set of observable behaviours)
  • How the future state will benefit staff, customers and the organisation

Get your managers’ buy-in to be models of openness and humility, and to share with their team, “The change starts with me, hold me accountable, I welcome your feedback”.

Give your leaders training on what it takes to be a transformational leader, one skilled in helping their people realise their highest potential in the pursuit of your organisation’s higher purpose. 

Today, there is a need for every organisation to lift their people’s productivity levels and for them to do significantly more with considerably less. Given the finite number of hours to the day, the real opportunity lies in upskilling your managers and to turn them into leaders capable of turning dissatisfied and “satisfied” employees into “engaged” and “inspired” champions of your cause. 

Satisfied employees hold a meeting to discuss what to do about walls. Engaged employees begin looking around for ladders to scale the wall. Inspired employees break right through it. Research by Bain & Company (Source: “Engaging your employees is good. But don’t stop there”, E. Garton & M. Mankins, Harvard Business Review, Dec. 2015) shows the engaged worker outperforms the satisfied worker by 44% in productivity, whilst the inspired outperform the satisfied by 125%. 

In other words, it takes two-and-a-quarter satisfied employees to produce at the same level as an inspired one!

Strategy #2: Resource this initiative the way you would for your most important project.

Change in the workplace

Culture transformation is a marathon, not a sprint. Depending on the size of your team, it will typically take three to five years for a new set of core values and behaviours to be firmly entrenched and institutionalised. 

Like any other transformative endeavour, it needs to be treated like a project, with specific outcomes and deliverables, a project organisational structure with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, budget, milestones, timelines and appropriately resourced with the right talent who have a great combination of IQ and EQ. 

This says to your people that culture is a priority, their leaders care about how their people feel about coming to work and are committed to the journey.

Create a powerful change coalition comprising a group of passionate and trusted change champions who are empowered to plan and drive the transformation with the support and sponsorship of the CEO or Head of Department. You’ll also need a steering committee comprising senior stakeholders from cross-functional groups.

Empower these change champions with the skills to model the behaviours reflective of the desired culture and to plan and implement an effective communications strategy. This strategy should take people through the four stages of behavioural change–awareness, interest, desire and habit.

Engage the services of a competent, experienced external change facilitator who shares your passion for culture change. Firstly, you stand to get an unbiased, unemotional, third-party view of how things are and who will tell you how it actually is. Secondly, your staff will often accept the ideas of a credible external expert even more than internal resource persons whom they view as being “part of the problem that brought us here in the first place”.

Strategy #3: Communicate to create focus and move hearts and minds.

Empowerment training


“What you focus on expands.”

– Esther Jno-Charles

If all people are seeing and hearing are targets, deadlines, issues and the like, they’re not focusing on what’s most important–the desired behaviours, best practice, vision and mission that will lead to a Quality and Innovation first culture

Supplement inspirational, result-oriented townhall presentations and workshops with a consistent stream of creative messaging–innovation fiestas, attention- grabbing posters, quizzes, audio visual presentations and interactive social media-type platforms that stimulate conversations, recognition and ideas. 

Share how your products are making a difference in the lives of the end-consumers and other internal stakeholders in the supply chain.

Break through “sacred cows”. If you are looking at creating a flatter, less hierarchical and more empowered workforce, ditch the meeting room setup that features the boardroom table reserved for senior managers with engineers and specialists sitting in the outer circle. Arrange a circle of chairs or cluster of tables. Get rid of that restroom that’s reserved only for the SVP.

Empower your managers and change champions with effective public speaking, facilitation and story-telling skills. To facilitate behaviour change, you must first move hearts, then minds. You want to have leaders who are skilled with the art of communicating in a way that “puts feelings first”.

Strategy #4: Plan and celebrate short-term wins.

Not many organisations and people have actually been through a culture transformation journey, let alone a successful one. To strengthen belief, your initial awareness sessions should go beyond being inspirational and informative to also outlining a clear strategy that includes small daily and weekly steps that staff can take to realise the desired culture. 

“A journey of a thousand miles starts with that first step.”

– Lao Tzu

For someone on a weight loss program for the first time, the goal of losing 20 kgs within a year can be daunting. Defining small, specific actionable steps like “reduce one meal of carbohydrates by ½ the quantity” and “take 3 thirty-minute walks a week” is far more believable. By focussing simply on taking these small steps, losing 20 kgs in a year then becomes a formality. Just as importantly, the daily rituals build discipline and turn desired behaviours into habit.

To create a more “empowering, innovative” culture, your goal could be for each staff member to take 10 minutes once a week to raise a suggestion on what could be done to improve quality, yield or staff engagement. And another 10 minutes to recognise a colleague for behaviours that are aligned with your desired culture.

A clear, specific, actionable plan helps the team get started. A simple yet powerful reward and recognition system that is regularly refreshed is what will accelerate and sustain positive momentum. 

Small daily and weekly steps


“People will naturally do more of what they associate great pleasure with.”

Most organisations have a recognition system of one kind or another. The key is to design it in a way that delivers a memorable, positive experience for the receiver. A timely, unexpected and sincere pat in the back done publicly is much more memorable than a $50 award deposited into one’s bank account. 

This requires both a mind-set and skill-set change. The mentality of managers to focus on and celebrate what’s working well and to stop fault-finding and blame game. Warning letters and public rebukes, so often a feature of transactional “Industry 2.0” manufacturing management is often at the root of slow, passive and reactive cultures. 

The “5 Why’s”, designed to facilitate learning and continuous improvement has instead often only resulted in fear and learned helplessness. The fear of failure needs to be replaced by leaders skilled in the art of coaching and giving feedback in a way that empowers the recipient to live by the “fail and learn fast” mentality. This results in the recipient wanting to do what’s right, even more.

For Singapore to be a truly global powerhouse, its leaders need to first recognise that the “genius with a thousand followers” model of leadership is incompatible with the accelerated pace of change demanded by Industry 4.0

The mind-set and human operating system that took us where we are today will not take us to where we seek to be. The cultural redesign required for Industry 4.0 presents a significant opportunity for the industry to not just elevate innovation, but also to enhance big picture thinking, customer centricity and quality

And in the process of tapping into the vast potential that comes when human hearts and minds are inspired and creating a culture of a thousand leaders, it stands to contribute to nation building in the most meaningful way. It means a boost in human consciousness, personal well-being and happiness at work. 

The journey will be long and challenging, but journeys of this sort are often the most fulfilling and meaningful of endeavours and, in these times, driven by the pragmatic need to stay relevant. Talk to us at EQ Strategist to get started on your journey towards a thriving organisational culture, today.