Why successful cultural change starts with the seating plan

When tasked with integrating several merged businesses, Havas UK's Chris Hirst knew just where to start.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 24 Feb 2020

Often the most challenging part of transforming an organisation's culture can be knowing where to start. That’s because culture is complicated and hard to define, and ultimately there’s no one size fits all model.

It’s a conundrum that Havas Creative CEO Chris Hirst is all too familar with. Having previously transformed Grey London into the capital's fastest growing ad agency with a programme of cultural change, Hirst set about creating a cohesive culture at marcomms giant Havas, which had undergone a series of mergers. Luckily from his experience with Grey, he knew just where to begin.

"The first thing I did was look at the seating plan. A great way of understanding how a company organises itself is to look at where people sit, so if you want to make the place just feel really different, really quickly, change the seating plan.

"We got rid of the departmental silos, moved teams across floors and worked to the rule that you're not going to be able to tell what job people do based on where they sit.

"My aim was to make as many subtle, but visible changes to that business's habits as I possibly could, so we started to schedule management meetings at a different time or place and just changed who was in the room.

"For cultural change to work you really have to quickly do things that physically impact people's habits and the way they go about their daily business.

"They're small changes that people see and feel and fundamentally it creates the belief that change is happening. Most employees can see when a business needs changing, but they don't necessarily believe that that it is going to happen. So you have to create a sense of belief, set the direction and then create physical change quickly.

"It doesn't create immediate success. At Havas it took two to three years for the real business benefit to show, following further restructuring. But it helped people prepare themselves mentally for the change and helped me see what else actually needed to be done."

Further Reading

To find out more about how Havas used the office to break down silos, read this piece. Here’s three ways to change a negative company culture. And finally, if you want to work out how to create a culture that fits your organisation, have a look at this feature.

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Image credit: MZiello/gettyimages


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