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The Fallacy of Culture Change

Why is there all this vim and vigor around culture change lately?

Maybe, it’s because we’ve realized how powerful culture really is.

There is not one day that goes by without a blog or article “making the case for” or “giving the 3 steps to” changing the culture.

 The fallacy of culture change is there is no quick fix or rapid method to change a culture (short of breaking up the organization or something drastic like that). It takes time, effort, and a bit of history to create culture. It doesn’t change easily.


What is organizational culture anyway?

Culture is what manifests our actions, informs our approaches, and determines who will be recognized and rewarded.

 Organizational culture reflects the values, beliefs, and norms that characterize an organization as a whole.Author J.D. Sherman


What do you do if you think your culture is “broken” or is insufficient to drive future success?

Before embarking on an initiative like this, there are a few questions that MUST be addressed:

  1. Does your culture really need to be changed?

In the spirit of “first do no harm” it is important to really examine your current corporate culture. In many cases, the basis or foundation of any organization that is successful or was successful are core values like

  • Integrity,
  • Tenacity,
  • Innovation,
  • Service
  • Loyalty
  • and many other admirable attributes.

It is seldom that an organization has core beliefs like dishonesty, murder, and thievery. Uncover the fundamental cultural beliefs prior to taking on ANY initiative to change the culture. Those beliefs can be leveraged or rekindled for future growth rather than attempting to replace them


2. What is the difference or dissonance between where you want the organization to go and your current culture?

Examine the gap between that stated culture (answer to question 1) and the desired end state or strategy. Once that gap is determined there are many different ways to bridge that gap and enable fulfillment of strategy.


3.What is the resistance that the culture will give you toward implementing a strategy?

There many examples of organizations that did things in the name of strategy that were counter to their culture (think Kodak, Circuit City, Eastern Airlines).  The actions resulted not only in a strategy not being fulfilled but the organization being negatively impacted- lower profit, decreased productivity, dramatically lower market share, etc.

 It is critical that organizations understand that the rush to “change the culture” will only increase resistance against that very activity.

Creating a campaign to change the culture will only result in resistance to changing it. – Curt Coffman

Bridging the Gap

Understanding the history and fundamentals of the culture are key to beginning to bridge the gap between strategy and culture. By building that bridge, a culture can be leveraged to drive the fulfillment of a strategy that will gain profit and market share.

 What are some examples of culture change that you’ve seen fail? What companies have you seen that do well change their culture effectively?  What did they do?



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