Can a Company Culture Be Changed?
By far, this has to be one of the biggest questions relating to company culture – can a company culture really be changed? As with any big question, there are reasons it’s difficult to answer with one word.
When you think of company culture, it’s essential you realise that a culture begins even before you’ve created one. Yes, even in organisations that put no work into their workplace culture, a culture exists. Like it does in families, communities and countries, we each follow set behaviours and hold values that reflect what we are part of or where we come from.
Company culture is often a product of organic evolution. The very beginning of company culture is tied to those that start the company – their core personal values, their work style, and comfort zones. So before you’ve even begun to work on your culture, you have to realise you have one.
Of course, knowing that the root creation of company culture is adopted from one or two key individuals within the company then makes the big question of changing culture even more complex.
So let’s dive in…
Yes you can change your culture…
I’m well aware that culture change is a big task to take on. According to research for a full change to take place it can take between two to three years. However, I have seen organisations evolve their company cultures much quicker than this, but it all depends on some strong factors.
….If you have open-minded people.
Cultures that see the slowest change are those who have been running for a long time. Think of big corporations who have been established for well-over ten or even twenty years. You’ve got a real mix of people in there, and many who believe in the ‘it’s always worked this way so why change’ attitude.
These types of organisations struggle as the people within them don’t see why things should change.
Instead, if you have a culture where people are generally open-minded and curious, you will see an adoption rate much quicker than you will with those who don’t understand change.
Of course, this open-minded attitude has to also come from both leaders and team, it cannot just be one person championing the change. Everyone has to be onboard.
As much as you’d like to be the heroic HR or employee making change, it is rare that one person can make an impact. Culture change has to come from a wider social movement of everyone involved in the organisation.
….if you take it slow and steady.
Sudden change scares people – it’s just human nature. Which means if you’re going to make sudden and dramatic culture shifts you may see an immediate dislike to the change. This rejection will eventually manifest into people simply not following the new culture, and almost roadblocking any suggestions.
Instead, when creating any kind of culture change it’s essential you take it slow and steady, and don’t rush the process. You’ve got to remember you’re not just changing the way you operate the business, but you’re changing the hearts and minds of your people, and that takes time.
…..If the benefits are obvious.
A culture change should come from a place of knowing why you should change in the first place.
Many people presume that culture changes only happen because the existing culture is toxic. But the truth is, sometimes the culture is no longer serving the people in the organisation, let alone helping the business to achieve its goals.
Regardless of why you’re going to take part in a change, you have to truly be able to answer why you’re doing it and believe the benefits of doing it, will far out way the consequences of leaving it as it is.
When culture change can come with friction and tough decisions, you have to really believe in the reason you’re doing it, so you can push through even when the road gets bumpy.
No you cannot change your culture....
More often than not, many organisations avoid a culture change because it feels like a mountain to climb, and there are lots of ‘what ifs’. What if it doesn’t work, what if it damages our brand, what if our people don’t like it. Aside from sheer avoidance, there are also strong reasons why a culture change just won’t stick.
...if leadership isn't on board.
If you are not a leader, or if leadership is not keen to change the culture, it is close to impossible to make effective culture changes.
You might be unhappy with the company culture, but that doesn’t mean leadership will be.
If you’re an employee or in the HR department, you’ve got to have a strong business reason as to why you think the business has to spend time and money conducting a culture shift – and I can guarantee, if their heart and soul isn’t into it – no amount of data is going to make them move.
As I’ve detailed previously, company culture starts at the top. It starts at the very conception of the business, which means if the leaders don’t want to change, a change is not going to happen.
….If you don’t have a clear direction.
Culture change sounds like an ominous project, and that’s because most organisations don’t understand what it is they want to change about their existing company culture.
Sometimes it can just be a gut feeling, but there are no specifics involved.
This is where as an organisation it’s essential you try to get down to the nitty gritty details of what you want to change and why.
You can do this through employee interviews and engagement surveys, and even from just noting down the way people interact within the workplace.
Once you can pinpoint the changes that are required, the more effective the changes will be.
Unfortunately, too many organisations still see culture change as a fully holistic practice. Which it can be for some companies, but most of the time, there are only a few elements that actually need some work.
…..if there is no awareness in the first place.
You know what they say, you can only change something when you’re aware it’s causing pain or discomfort. This is true for company culture as much as it is true in life.
If your organisation has zero awareness of the problems within its company culture, or even the importance of building a strong company culture, then change will never occur.
Most organisations won’t put any investment into their culture until there is a pain point of some kind. It could be people leaving the organisation at a fast rate, a public scandal on the brand, or a new competitor begins to dominate the market.
Without having awareness you can’t start making the changes that are needed in your company culture.
Old vs. new organisations.
From my experience, it’s more challenging to change the culture of an existing company than it is to create a culture in a brand-new organisation. But neither is impossible, it just takes work.
When an existing culture is already present, people have to unlearn old values, bad habits, attitudes and behaviours before they can learn new ones, and this takes time.