Changing organizational culture: a 101 guide and useful tips

Does your company culture still reflect your goals and values? If not, it might be time for a change

WeWork Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. Photograph by WeWork

No matter what your company exists to do—whether it’s innovating in tech, creating exciting new products, or providing an unforgettable customer experience—cultivating the right organizational culture can be key to achieving long-term success.

But when a company’s culture doesn’t match its stated goals and vision, it’s time to make a change. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at when you might need to change a company culture, explore some of the challenges business leaders face when attempting to change a company’s culture, and offer some tips on successfully making that transition.

A flexible office solution such as WeWork All Access can help you more easily achieve a change in organizational culture by providing teams with the space they need to work together. For last-minute flexibility, WeWork On Demand lets you access workspaces and meeting rooms in hundreds of locations in cities all around the world, without the hassle or constraints of a monthly commitment.

What is organizational culture?

Organizational culture is a term used to describe a company’s core values and beliefs. The concept of organizational culture can be difficult to nail down, but it’s often expressed in the way a company makes business decisions, how employees interact with one another, how the company hierarchy is structured, how leaders and employees conduct themselves, and in the physical work environment itself. 

When might you need to change organizational culture?

Over time, an organization’s culture can become outdated or misaligned with its ambitions and values. This can be bad news for business, in part because attracting and retaining the best talent becomes way more challenging if a company’s vibe is no longer in line with the times. When this happens, it’s likely time to think about making changes to the organizational culture.

For an extreme example of this, consider tobacco and fossil fuel companies. As consumers became aware of the negative impact of these products, the biggest players in these industries had to quickly realign their organizational cultures to reflect new green values and social goals in order to attract new employees and survive.

Your company probably isn’t facing a cultural shift as dramatic as those faced by big tobacco, but it’s always worth considering whether your organizational culture is still in step with your business ambitions and values.

What are the challenges of changing organizational culture?

Changing organizational culture can be a daunting task, so it’s important to be aware of the potential challenges you could face when attempting it. Here are two of the most common pitfalls:

1. Lack of buy-in from employees

If employees don’t feel like they have a stake in the changes being made, they won’t be motivated to help make them happen. To be successful, leaders should make sure that everyone understands the reasons for the change and that they have an opportunity to contribute their ideas.

2. Difficulty in measuring success

Because organizational culture can be hard to define, it may be difficult to measure the success of cultural change, and it can take a long time to see the results. It’s important to have a plan in place to track progress as best you can, and to have patience as the new culture takes hold.

The role of leadership in organizational culture

Making a change in organizational culture requires buy-in from leaders as well as employees. People in senior roles should lead by example and show their teams how to embody the new culture. This will help them understand what’s expected of them and make them more likely to embrace the change.

Facing resistance from established leaders

It can be difficult to get buy-in from leaders who have been at the company for a long time, especially if they’re set in their ways and resistant to change. Persuading veteran managers to move away from the feeling that “this is how things have always been done” can be a huge challenge. It’s important to explain the reasons for the changes to these leaders, as well as how they can help to make them happen.

How to change organizational culture without generating discomfort

Changing the culture of a company requires an in-depth understanding of the current climate and the desired outcome, as well as a willingness to take risks to make it happen. The following tips can help you navigate the process.

Identify your vision

The first step in making a change is to identify your company vision. Consider what type of culture you want to create, and how it will benefit the company. This will also help you determine what changes need to be made and how to go about making them.

Engage your employees

Engaging your employees is key to making a successful cultural shift. Explain the vision of the new culture to them and get their feedback. This will help you identify any potential issues that may arise, and it allows them to feel as if they’re part of the process.

Set clear goals

Once you have a vision and have gathered feedback from your employees, it’s time to set clear goals. These should encompass both short-term and long-term objectives and be specific and measurable. This helps to keep everyone focused on the desired outcome.

Benefits of organizational culture change

Why is it important to think about something as seemingly abstract as your organization’s culture? Because it can ultimately impact the success of the entire business. Here are some of the benefits of adapting your organizational culture:

  • Happier employees. When employees believe they have a lot in common with their company’s culture and values, they’re more likely to feel happier and more comfortable in the workplace.
  • More trusting customers. When a company’s mission statement is backed up by positive actions, good business practices, and a coherent organizational culture, customers feel they can trust that company.
  • Increased productivity. When an employee feels that they share the same goals and values as their employer does, they’re more productive and passionate about the work they do.
  • Improved employee retention. A strong sense of belonging at a company means employees will stick around longer, reducing the cost of hiring and training new workers.
  • More qualified applicants. The clearer your company’s core values, the greater chance you’ll have of finding qualified employees that share those same values.

Mistakes to avoid when changing organizational culture

Being inflexible

Things don’t always go as planned, and it’s important to be flexible when it comes to making a culture change. Be open to feedback and willing to make adjustments as needed. This will help ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible.

Being impatient

Changing a company’s culture doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s important to be patient and consistent in your efforts. Don’t expect to see results immediately. It will take time for the new culture to take hold and for everyone to adjust. But once it happens, the effort will be more than worth it. 

Steve Hogarty is a writer and journalist based in London. He is the travel editor of City AM newspaper and the deputy editor of City AM Magazine, where his work focuses on technology, travel, and entertainment.

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