Overcoming cultural barriers to change

A British Red Cross project to roll out new information practices overcame barriers to change.

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The British Red Cross is a long-established charitable organisation with 3000 employees and more than 30,000 volunteers.  Founded in 1870 it went through a period of organisational 'convergence' in the 1990s as it restrurctured into 'one organisation' and moved away from a deeply embedded branch culture.

Part of this legacy can still be seein in the folders and multiple file structures which are all too familiar to many of us from our own workplaces.  Office and desk-bound inforamtion silos, organised around geographic and structural lines and reflecting a 'create, use and abandon' information culture.  These information structures are no longer fit for purpose in a more flexible, mobile, networked and team-based workplace.

At a joint Aslib/IFEG event, James Andrews, Knowledge and Information Management Officer for the British Red Cross, spoke about the work he and his colleagues are doing to counteract cultural roadblocks and develop new information practices and skills.

Why change?

The drivers for change at the British Red Cross include issues around:

  • supporting mobile working
  • encouraging collaboration
  • meeting the demands of changing legal and regulatory frameworks
  • reducing duplication of effort

Barriers to change

  • initiative fatique
  • varying degrees of IT literacy
  • reluctance to change
  • familiarity with existing processes

Tips for success from the British Red Cross Workspaces programme

Make users central to your project and listen to your communities - James and his colleagues undertook the majority of the intial project interviews themselves.  This enabled them to learn about, and from, their colleagues and helped them demonstrate their geniune interest in the needs of their internal customers.  It also had the long-term beneficial impact on the project by creating strong relationships with stakeholders - many of whom went on to act as project advocates.

Identify objectives and map benefits - always begin with your project objectives and use them as a foundation to help you map the project benefits - to both the organisation and individuals.  Ensure you are able to paint an explicit vision of the benefits to invididuals - what is in it for them?  The project benefits map can become a useful advocacy tool.  It helped the project team to map project dependencies and identify owners of change.

Design multiple feedback mechanisms - and ensure you respond to feedback.  Remember that - as with any change-dependent project - project deliver is just the beginning!

By establishing strong customer relationships throughout the project, the team has a group of advocates who are able and willing to talk positively about the benefits of the new working approach.  This means that other teams and groups have expressed interest in the project.

James was talking at the joint Aslib/IFEG event on the same programme as Gareth Parkes from the Energy Institute.  Although the two projects were different - one focusing on internal stakeholders and one of external customers, both projects have one major theme in common.  Successful projects place their customers at the very heart of project planning and implementation.


Image courtesy of HowardLake via Flickr.