Tips on Changes in Organizational Culture

Change of Culture is something that only happens over a period of time, with a desire to make an environment that is different than the current environment. But there are some tips that will make the process easier.

1) Awareness – Why Change?

From the perspective of any organization, there is a standard mode of operation. It is what the people in the organization do from day to day and it is largely a reflection of the leadership. If the leadership doesn’t change, the rest of the organization is unlikely to change even if they are given training to make changes. Whenever an organizational leader thinks that the organization needs to undergo a cultural change, the first person they need to look to is themselves. To get an understanding of this principle, one only needs to look at the hiring practices. If an organizational leader is competitive, they will tend to hire competive managers. If they find that this is hurting the business or causing disparity between departments, they must first start examining their own competative nature. Likewise, an executive who is interested in creating an culture with Sustainable practices is likely to hire and promote individuals who are like minded. 

But just saying that you want a certain quality in the organization is like saying “I want to be muscular”. It doesn’t just happen. You first need to be aware of your current situation “I’m out of shape”, you need to be aware of your goal “I want to be in shape” and you need to be aware of the differences.

2) Understanding – What to Change

Understanding that a change is required, is the first step. You then need to begin understanding what specifically needs to be changed. In changing something tactical, it is a simple matter of implementing a new system, method or sharing an idea.

In changing a culture, the underlying value of the organization needs to be changed. This is much tougher because every employee has come to operate with certain set of organizational values. Even if they are not good values, they have become the norm and making changes will make employees feel uncertain and unclear about what is expected of them.

Leaders who are undertaking a cultural change need to be aware of how their changes may potentially impact the organization and build the supporting legs before mounting the fixture. Here’s what I mean. If you create have an organization where there is frequent backbiting (gossip), cliques, disunity, and poor teamwork, and you want to change to one where there is greater openness and teamwork. Probably a team building exercise won’t work. You need first to build the legs of trust, kindness, tolerance, honesty and sharing. Where there is trust, team members are provided a means to understand each other better. Where there is tolerance, mistakes become a learning experience, where there is kindness there is understanding and healing, and where there is sharing and learning, team work becomes inevitable.

3) Method – How to Change

Even if we know what values and qualities to build as a foundation for new approaches, simply stating it won’t make a difference. People need to experience these new attributes in action. Experience eliminates the unknown, increases adaptation and competence, and reduces resistance. For example, buillding trust between two individuals or teams, relies on helping them to understand the issues from other perspectives, helping them to try different approaches, helping them to accept imperfection while striving for understanding. Experience is built with guidance and patience. Building tolerance relies on helping employees to see the differences and benefits of a learning cycle vs. a blaming cycle. And all learning requires patience and practice with what patience means in difficult times.

4) Motivation - Align Change with Long Term Purpose

Changes inevitably will only succeed over the long term when they are from the deepest source of motivation. For example, I may make a change in an organization to become more profitable by making deep cuts to the workforce. But being profitable isn’t a long term motivation, it is a short term goal. So while the changes may succeed for a while, they ultimately miss the point and, if anything, negatively impact the culture. When changing an organizational culture, time is required, understanding is required, depth is required and longevity is required.

If I want to change the culture for the better, I need to begin by understanding what better is? Let’s say for example that I work in a mining industry. To change the company to continously extract more minerals while ignoring the environmental impact inevitably “feels wrong”. Members of the organization might support the changes with their actions, but not with their hearts. The underlying human motivation is missing something.

If instead, that same company looks towards providing a mineral supply and uses both recycling of material and extracting only what is absolutely necessary from the earth to augment the needs while striving to find means of eliminating environmental disruption, consulting affected citizens, striving to work with the customers in concepts of recycling and re-use, and sharing and reacting to ideas, such actions and behaviours would slowly gain the support of members of the organization and it’s customer base because they are ultimately consistant with human dignity and justice. In the end, there may still be changes to the organizational workforce but it is done for a different reason with a different understanding, attitude, method and an underlying culture which places respect for human dignity and justice above profit.

5) Actions – Do what will get you one step closer

Changing a culture is a slow process and it requires action. If those actions are consistently based on values and motivations which are rooted in the dignity of the human spirit, they will slowly make their mark on the entire organization and transform it to one which is purpose driven. The results of actions are cumulative.

If they are based on short-term, short-sited or self-centred motivations, they will ultimately falter and leave only short term results and an organization which is spurred on by short term rewards.

6) – Reflection – Learn from Change

As with any change, we must take action. As with any action, we do what we believe to be correct but we are not always correct. With each change, and with each action, we learn from reflecting on what we’ve done. Reflection requires looking at the situation, the actions, the results and what we can do to improve the situation next time round.


Change in Organizational Culture, or at least change for the better, requires Awareness, Understanding, Method, Motivation, Action and a continuous cycle of Reflection and learning. It’s what makes a better organization and contributes to a better world. Or put the other way, you can’t contribute to a better world by making an organiztion worse or leaving it the same.

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All the best,

Garth Schmalenberg
Phone: 1-416-919-6598


1 Comment

  1. Electronic Recycling Said,

    October 8, 2009 @ 12:01 am

    Have you tried to contact the manufacturer of an electronic item you wanted to recycle? I have, and it wasn’t an easy conversation. When my wife and I were ready to buy a new computer, we called the customer service department of the manufacturer of our old laptop. We were basically told that they currently do not have a program in place to assist us. When I asked the rep what I should do with the computer, his response was, “Well, that’s your choice… you could hold on to it, throw it away or find a place that takes computers to recycle them.”