The danger of overlooking culture during change


All change is, to some degree, a culture change. It’s impossible to make a companywide change that significantly impacts the organisation, and not shift the culture. But unfortunately, the importance of culture in change programmes is often forgotten, despite it being cited as a common reason for change failure.

To prevent culture from derailing your best made change plans, ask yourself these two key questions:


  1. Will this change initiative meet people’s expectations of ‘how things are done around here’ and ‘what we stand for’?

In every organisation you hear people say, ‘this is how things are done around here’ and ‘this is what’s expected’. These are the phrases to pay attention to in order to understand your cultural benchmark. By knowing what people currently expect, you can understand what cultural factors are important and plan your change initiative so that it lives up to, or exceeds, people’s cultural expectations.

For example, if your organisation has a family feel that you want to protect, you should pay extra attention to providing people with support and telling the story of change in a way that recognises the values of care and loyalty. Focus on what matters to your people, whether that is maintaining relationships, being ‘in the know’ or staying at peak productivity. Align your change with the existing culture and values.


  1. Have we identified the company’s cultural icons, and are we using them effectively to help drive the change?

All organisations have people who embody the culture and it’s these people who you want to champion your change. Having them on board will unleash a driving force for your change, but losing them may have a significant negative impact.

Increased turnover is often a consequence of change, and although it’s common to audit your talent to determine who you have, and who you need to drive the change, we rarely consider talent in terms of culture. Have you ever considered who embodies what you stand for as a company? Or who you would like to keep hold of culturally? You don’t want to lose the people who make you who you are. Identify your cultural icons, keep them on board and use their help to champion the change throughout the organsiation.

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