Organisational Culture: The Big Impact of Small Changes

Planning meeting

Organisational culture has been described as the DNA of an organisation, and has been linked with a range of outcomes including engagement, retention and performance. As a result, leaders undoubtedly want their organisational culture to exhibit the characteristics which are most likely to lead to beneficial outcomes. However, it’s often thought that culture is an inherently difficult characteristic to change, requiring large amounts of time and money. Nonetheless, just as with DNA, small changes can have tremendous effects on the outcome.

Three of the changes which could help to shift organisational culture are listed below:

1) Recognising the impact of small changes

The first important step is to recognise the effects which just small changes can have. It’s easy to discount the effects of small changes, leading to little change at all. Try making one small change – go into your next meeting in a really positive mood. Studies have shown that when three strangers meet in a room, the most emotionally expressive individual transmits their mood to the others within just a couple of minutes 1. This is an important finding, given the links between a positive mood and resilience, creativity and performance 2 3. As a result, small positive changes in our attitude and behaviour that each of us make, can cascade through the organisation.

2) Hiring on values

Hiring candidates based on the extent to which their values are aligned with organisational values can help to maintain a culture whereby the values in a company are truly central to the culture. Individuals tend to have fairly stable values, so it’s more difficult to cultivate values in new employees than it is to hire candidates whose values are already aligned with organisational ones. What’s more, research from business psychology has found that those who share values with their organisation show lower intentions to leave 4.

3) Getting buy-in

Just as a positive mood can spread rapidly, so can a negative one. It’s therefore important to get as many employees to engage with any change in organisational culture which may be made. Firstly, employees need to understand exactly what changes are being made, and why. Secondly, they need to care about the changes as purely rational understanding will undoubtedly not be enough to shift behaviour in a sustainable way – leaving the culture unchanged. Lastly, it’s important for employees to understand exactly what they can do to support the culture change. Once these three levels of engagement occur, proposed changes to culture can be more effectively implemented.

Although culture is the DNA of an organisation, small changes such as the ones listed above can have profound effects. As a result, each employee can play a central role in shaping and supporting organisational culture change, with leaders and managers holding an especially important role.



1 Friedman, H. & Riggio, R. (1981). Effect of Individual Differences in Nonverbal Expressiveness on Transmission of Emotion. Journal of Nonverbal Behaviour, 6, 96-104.
2 Davis, M. (2009). Understanding the Relationship between Mood and Creativity: A Meta-analysis. Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 108(1), 25-38.
3 Lukey, B. & Tepe, V. (2009). Biobehavioural Resilience to Stress. CRC Press.
4 Finegan, J. (2000). The Impact of Person-Organisational Values on Organisational Commitment. Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology, 3(2), 149-169.