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How Barnardo's managed cultural change

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How Barnardo's went about achieving cultural change in their communications and fundraising teams.


Be The Difference Consulting is a specialist leadership development consultancy supporting leaders and their teams to achieve transformational change in order to reach their potential and beyond.

The issues we faced

The Barnardo’s brand holds a powerful legacy. Today the charity deals with hard-edged issues such as drug abuse, youth crime and mental health, through 400 projects across the UK. Yet the impact of Barnardo's work is sometimes underestimated.

This challenge was addressed in 2008 by the organisation's communications and fundraising directorates, who acknowledged that two distinct subcultures had evolved within their own teams. The key driver for cultural change was recognition that if Barnardo’s was to remain at the leading edge within the voluntary sector and beyond, its ‘commercial’ arm had to:

  • create synergy across the fundraising and communications teams
  • empower all staff to deliver their best
  • embrace innovation to optimise opportunities whilst managing risk proactively
  • enable greater flexibility to respond rapidly to the external environment.

The actions we took

The cultural change journey began with a facilitated away day for the managers across the two teams. Together they built a shared vision and signposted the necessary steps along the journey. This included a new set of values that were important for maintaining a strong market position as well as reflecting the kind of environment in which managers aspired to work.

‘Culture’ is often a difficult concept to quantify. To help define the task ahead, individuals created maps illustrating the things they see, hear and feel which typified their workplace. Recognising the prevalent stories, symbols and control systems enabled the team to identify cultural indicators - an important stake in the ground as to the starting point for culture change.

The team then considered what they wished to hold onto which would reflect the new values and what should replace outdated elements. Doing this enabled them to see how far they had to go in order to achieve the vision and possible obstacles.

Back in the workplace, managers were keen to signal an immediate shift. They set up cross-team project working (underpinned by project management training). A review of signing-off processes helped to signal empowerment and establish greater clarity of responsibility and accountability.

Positive outcomes

Leadership masterclasses helped managers to establish a shared understanding of what effective leadership looks like and to recognise that good management is not sufficient to drive culture change.

One-to-one coaching helped leaders to increase their self-awareness, develope a flexible style and engage others more effectively. Each leader is on a personal journey to create a unique leadership identity.

Another tangible signal of change was a new simple set of behaviours that were incorporated into the performance management system. These behaviours affirm positive contributions from individuals and model the new values.

Negative outcomes

A major challenge of any cultural change is engaging remote teams on the journey. This was a particularly issue for Barnardo’s, as many of its fundraising staff are home-based.

Ensuring communication isn’t enough – all messages have to factor in individual's preferred communication styles and personality types (for example, include the big picture as well as the day-to-day impact on remote teams on the ground). It’s also got to be a two-way dialogue - it's essential to consider the views of remote staff in all aspects of organisational and cultural change.

'Quick wins' were a vital part of the process. Examples of quick wins include placing those who will champion the change in key influencing positions, sharing stories of progress and celebrating success. It's important to involve people at a local level to bridge the gap.

Lessons learnt

A year on, the culture shift is clearly evident, with the original map barely recognisable. Most importantly of all, leaders recognise that they are the change that they wish others to follow. Embedding the change is the next step, now that the solid foundations are in place.


Page last edited Mar 30, 2017

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