Can you Change your Company Culture?

There’s a lot of talk about cultures these days, and for good reason. Culture is the collective values, behaviors and habits displayed by those who work for the organization. While two competitive organizations may have the exact same mission, their cultures can be radically different. An organization’s culture is a large driving force in how decisions are made and why people choose to join or leave a company. But a culture must be nurtured and developed. Unfortunately, sometimes leaders can get so busy that they neglect their culture. Suddenly, the culture isn’t in alignment with what they set out to create. The question is: Can a leader change a company’s culture? The answer: Yes!

So what can a leader do when facing the daunting task of redirecting the culture?

Start with a clear vision

Vision is a fancy word for a clear mental picture of the outcome. What will the culture look like in the future and how will it operate? The neat thing about vision is that everybody has one of three visions. Some leaders have a positive vision and feel that tomorrow will be even better than it was today. Others have a vision of status quo; they want tomorrow to be similar to what it is today. And last, all of us have had an employee who has a negative vision and truly believes that tomorrow will be worse than it was today. Great leaders know that it’s almost impossible to know what goals you have to set and roles you need people to fulfill without a clear positive vision of what you want for your organization.

Set goals to turn the vision into a reality

Once your vision is clear, set and communicate the goals to everyone in the organization … multiple times and through multiple channels. When it comes to clear vision and goals, you can’t over-communicate.


Team members need to be clear on the vision, goals and strategic direction. They also want to know they’re valued and can trust their leaders. One of the fastest ways to build trust in an organization is to over-communicate. And, the only time you will even gain points for being trustworthy is by being honest when it costs you something. For example, we recently worked with a CEO who told the troops that their healthcare co-pays were not expected to go up this year. About a month after he made the announcement, he had to go back to everyone in the company and let them know he made a mistake, communicated too quickly, and now needed to set the record straight. The CEO felt compelled to take the heat for providing incorrect information and took the responsibility for getting the information corrected.

Sell people on the problem, not the solution

Tell people why the culture needs to change. Maybe your competitors are providing a better quality or faster service and you have recently lost several accounts. That would be a great example of selling people on the solution or the “why” you need to change the culture. A much better way to change cultures is to sell people on the problem and not the solution. Ask you team members, “If all our competitors are improving the quality of their products and the speed of their service, and we don’t, is it possible even more of our clients are going to stop doing business with us?” When people think about the problem, they are much more motivated to be a part of finding the solution.

Start with the rudders first

When it comes to leading change, there are three types of people. First, you have the propellers. They see the vision and are actively engaged and providing the needed energy to lead the new vision. Rudders are in the middle. They take a wait and see attitude and, while they aren’t actively road blocking the change, they aren’t leading the change either. Last, you have the anchors. They are actively opposed to the change and do whatever they can to stop the change from being implemented. Where leaders need to spend the majority of their time is with the rudders, the group in the middle. The propellers are moving in the direction of the vision and may not even need your support. It’s the rudders who can be pulled in either direction. The anchors only have one goal: to pull rudders down into anchor territory because misery loves miserable company. Leaders should spend their initial time moving rudders up the change ladder and align them with the propellers.

Create a plan and set firm timelines for implementation

Once you have the vision, goals and a plan, set a firm timeline for implementation. If you wait until the right time or when people are really ready, you will never implement the change. If, for example, you’re introducing new values, the sooner you do it the better.

Hold team members accountable for the desired results

All change is uncomfortable. If you do not believe this fact, try asking someone to place their watch or bracelet on the opposite arm they are used to wearing it. When we make this request of people in seminars, seldom do participants leave their watch on their new arm for the rest of the seminar. Some participants even refused to move their watch at all. Why? Because it’s uncomfortable. The best way to change the culture is to identify the vision and goals you want to achieve, and then measure regularly to ensure you’re on target. What do you measure? Everything that will help you turn your vision into reality. (i.e. service, quality, productivity, number of new innovative products, sales, teamwork, client satisfaction, retention, etc.)

Promise people big problems

As I write this, President Obama continues to be drilled over the implementation of the American Health Care Act. As you listen to the Republicans and the media, it does not sound like much has gone right. Whenever you make a big change–and the ACHA definitely falls into this category—you’re better off telling people about all the problems you’re going to encounter versus all the benefits you will receive once the change has been implement. When you promise people a ton of problems with the change, and the problems do occur, you’ll gain points for being honest.

Hire winners

Since your culture is heavily influenced by those on your team, it’s important that you hire people who share your cultural values. Once you identify your vision, communicate to the hiring managers what characteristics people might have who can help push your company forward. When hiring, rather than asking people what their values are (it’s unlikely that candidates will know their true values off the top of their heads) ask them what they’re proud of. When they tell you that they’re proud of the work they’ve done in their local soup kitchen, that will tell you that they value serving others; when they tell you that they’re proud of their last promotion, that will tell you they’re ambitious; and when they tell you that they’re proud of a recent class they took, that tells you that they value education.

Change what you reward

One of the biggest differences of the PBS Benchmarked Best of the Best Organizations is the Best of the Best are much stronger in the areas of cross-departmental communication and teamwork. Almost always, in organizations that are challenged by a lack of cross-departmental teamwork and communication, the senior leaders have placed most of the rewards upon managers who achieve individual contributor or departmental success. If you want to improve cross-departmental communication and teamwork, you need to start rewarding people and teams who exhibit those behaviors and achieve even higher levels of results.

Of the things that are hard to change, your culture is up there. However, as we discussed, it is possible. Put into play the actions from this blog and you will significantly increase your chances of successfully leading your team or organization’s culture change.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Popular on the blog
beyond-engagement-cover_184x228Free White Paper Beyond Engagement:  8 Proven Strategies to Workplace Excellence

Learn how your organization can achieve results through Workplace Excellence

Download Now

The Manager's Toolkit

The Manager's Toolkit is the one stop action planning website for becoming an even stronger, more effective leader. Managers will read recommendations, related articles, suggested actions, and watch informative videos that will guide them through improving their leadership skills.

Client LoginLearn More