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6 Organizational Culture Change Strategies

The world needs leaders that aspire to create a better tomorrow. Just as no one is perfect, no organization is perfect, and no organizational culture is perfect. Organizations, like all other natural systems, head toward a state of randomness over time. Stated another way: if leaders are not continually investing in making the business better, it's declining. It is not about change but survival. Organizational culture is everyone's responsibility, and leaders play a central role in influencing and reinforcing the desired culture. Leaders need to be able to operate within and upon the business. Today, many leaders are asking how they can change their organizations culture. Although culture change is challenging, making changes doesn't require considerable investments or a team of people colocated in the same office building. Here are six practical culture change strategies for leaders to move your company closer to your goal.

Why Organizational Culture is Important

Organizational culture is the one thing that influences every aspect of your business. It directly impacts the overall success of your organization, your people, your customers, and your communities. The underlying values of an organization influence the behaviors of employees and their decisions.

Much has been written on the impact of culture on business effectiveness. Scholarly research has directly linked the effects on customer satisfaction, employee teamwork, cohesion, and employee involvement. Organizational culture creates an internal and external brand identity that influences what and how people think about your organization.

Organizational culture is also key to unlocking innovation. Just as some organizational culture characteristics can support innovation, others can also inhibit innovation. For example, a hierarchical organizational culture type has been proven to decrease an organization's ability to innovate.

What is Organizational Culture?

If you are looking for a good discussion topic at an upcoming meeting, take some time to ask those attending how they would describe your company's culture. You will likely hear many different perspectives on what culture is and is not.

The word culture gets used differently by different people at different times. Edgar Schein is considered to be one of the most influential contemporary thought leaders on organizational culture, and below is his organizational culture definition:

"a pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems."

It is easy to focus on the visible things that describe an organization's culture. However, an organizational culture framework consists of artifacts, values, and underlying assumptions:

  1. Artifacts: These are the things you can see, feel, or hear in the workplace. Examples include what is displayed, office layouts, uniforms, identification badges, and what is discussed and not discussed.

  2. Espoused Values: What you are told and beliefs you can use to make decisions. Examples include a company's vision and values or mission statement. They are explicitly stated official philosophies about the company.

  3. Basic Assumptions: These things go without saying or are taken for granted. Examples could include speaking up in meetings, holding a door for someone, smiling, or greeting someone by name when walking down the hall.

3 Strong Organizational Culture Examples

Organizations with strong organizational cultures are defined by having their culture deeply rooted in how they operate. The following three companies are frequently recognized for their organizational culture.

Southwest Airlines operates within an industry routinely made fun of for its poor customer service; however, it is known for the opposite. Employees at Southwest can do what is needed to make customers happy, and as a result, their customers are loyal.

Zappos is an organization that has tightly connected its culture with its hiring practices. Zappos offers new hires $2000 to quit if they feel the job is not the right fit for them within the first week of employment. Check out this Zappos organizational culture video:

Keeping culture strong becomes more challenging as the organization grows. Google has faced many challenges on its path to becoming the 5th most valuable company by market capitalization in the world. Businesses have to reinvent themselves to grow and adapt to changes.

Google is known for being unique and leveraging data everywhere. Google uses people analytics not just for feedback but also for organizational culture analysis. Check out Google Project Aristotle to learn how data is used to improve teamwork.

6 Culture Change Strategies

The following six proven leadership strategies can change employees' behavior and what they think, feel, and perceive.

Culture Change Strategy #1: What leaders pay attention to regularly

Your attention is one of the most potent mechanisms for culture change that leaders always have available. What leaders choose to systematically measure, reward systematically, and control matters, and the opposite is also true. For example, suppose an organization wants to build an analytical orientation within the culture. In that case, a great starting point is to ask leaders what data they use to make decisions or reward leaders for making data-driven decisions.

Culture Change Strategy #2: How leaders react to critical incidents

When a business or a leader faces a significant challenge, much can be revealed. These crucible moments are like refining fires. The heightened emotional intensity increases individual and organizational learning. For example, the recent global pandemic revealed much more about an organization's values than any about page on a website or company orientation ever would. Sodexo is one positive example of an organization demonstrating its commitment to employees through leadership's pandemic response.

Culture Change Strategy #3: How leaders allocate resources and control costs

Follow the money. Budgets reveal a lot about the organization's assumptions and beliefs. Additionally, resources include physical assets such as equipment and tools, as well as human resources. What gets resourced gets reinforced. Going back to the example of creating an analytical orientation, leaders should consider what tools and resources employees have available for data analytics.

Culture Change Strategy #4: Deliberate role modeling and training

How leaders act and behave outside training is more significant than what is said or demonstrated in training events. Leaders looking to build an analytical cultural orientation would benefit by explaining to and showing the organization how they use data to make decisions on a routine basis.

Culture Change Strategy #5: How leaders allocate rewards

Rewards and recognition come in many different forms. What is considered a reward varies from person to person. What gets rewarded, how it gets rewarded, and what does not get rewarded reinforce organizational culture. There are tangible rewards and social rewards. Simply saying thank you for presenting a decision using data analytics is a social reward.

Culture Change Strategy #6: How leaders recruit, promote, and fire

Who gets hired, promoted, and fired, and for what, creates and reinforces your organization's culture. Talent management decisions can be viewed as a more subtle nuance to culture change because they are influenced by explicitly stated criteria and unstated value priorities. A leader looking to influence an analytical cultural orientation would benefit from assessing the skill sets needed within the organization and then hiring based on those skills.

How Do You Overcome Culture Change Resistance?

Organizations are likely to deny the need for change and become defensive at the suggestion of change. If leaders are not attentive to the resistance, they can be under estimate the change needed.

Just mentioning the word change creates anxiety. Creating momentum within the organizations around the desire to survive and thrive reduces learning anxiety by creating psychological safety. Psychological safety is when you feel included, able to learn, contribute, and provide critical feedback without fear of being embarrassed, excluded, or penalized. Leaders increase psychological safety by consistently helping followers comprehend and accept the challenge.

A critical takeaway observation from the six strategies for change is that they are about the leader's habits rather than a one-and-done culture change intervention. Also, these strategies tap into critical drivers of organizational change:

  1. The inspiration of employees.

  2. The involvement is of everyone as much as possible.

  3. The internalization of the change.

As the world changes, people and organizations must change too. We partner with clients to cultivate desired organizational cultures so that they can thrive.

Our approach to culture change starts with creating consensus on the current and preferred culture characteristics using a proven organizational culture framework and assessment.

  • We identify stories about the best of what is and can be.

  • We apply strategic foresight principles to wind tunnel the preferred culture against trends and possible market influences.

  • We clarify the preferred cultural identity, values, knowledge, behaviors, and environment.

  • We establish strategic plans that address organizational culture priorities, blockages, and solutions.

  • We assess and develop leadership competencies to reinforce the preferred organizational culture.

Contact us to discuss how we can partner to create a pathway toward your desired future.


Büschgens, T., Bausch, A., & Balkin, D. B. (2013). Organizational culture and innovation: A meta‐analytic review. The Journal of Product Innovation Management, 30(4), 763-781.

Cameron, K. S., & Quinn, R. E. (2011). Diagnosing and changing organizational culture: Based on the competing values framework (Third ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gregory, B. T., Harris, S. G., Armenakis, A. A., & Shook, C. L. (2009). Organizational culture and effectiveness: A study of values, attitudes, and organizational outcomes. Journal of Business Research, 62(7), 673-679.

Nieminen, L., Biermeier-Hanson, B., & Denison, D. (2013). Aligning leadership and organizational culture: The leader-culture fit framework for coaching organizational leaders. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 65(3), 177-198.

Pater, R. (2015). Advanced culture change leadership. Professional Safety, 60(9), 24.

Schein, E. H., & Schein, P. (2016). Organizational culture and leadership, 5th edition (5th ed.) John Wiley & Sons.


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Hi, I'm Dr. Jeff Doolittle. I'm determined to make your personal and professional goals a reality. My only question is, are you?

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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