5 Overlooked Ways to Change Your Company’s Culture

By Heather Campbell

Are you an HR Director who’s embarking on culture change in your organisation? Or maybe you’ve been leading culture change for a while and have hit that inevitable brick wall with energy and motivation flagging?

Either way, I’m going to share with you five keys to successfully changing culture that will help you get off to a flying start and will get you moving again when the brick wall seems insurmountable.

(1) Be clear about goals, success measures and ROI

Business managers are often task-focussed problem-solvers and culture change is far too nebulous to be an attractive concept. They may be unwilling to engage with it as a result.

To get their interest in the first place, and maintain it long-term, it is essential to specify exactly what is to be achieved, how it will be measured and the return on investment that is expected. Culture change, like any other business change, needs each of these because they give focus, direction and edge in any sector.

You’ll also find that these are powerful when it comes to maintaining senior leaders’ interest too.

(2) Keep senior leaders engaged

Far too many HR Directors get hooked on engaging people from middle managers to front line staff, and don’t focus nearly enough on keeping senior leaders engaged.

This is likely to be the death knell of your culture change.  While this type of change may occasionally be driven ‘from the bottom up’, the reality is that it can be achieved more quickly and easily when it’s lead top-down. And, as the HR Director, you’ll have a lot more clout across the business if you’ve other senior leaders genuinely engaged too. It stops the whole thing being seen as ‘an HR initiative’.

It is essential to get culture change appearing on every Board meeting agenda.  It must have equal billing alongside progress with the latest design concept, financial updates and success in new markets.

(3) Focus on progress, not perfection

I first came across this simple and yet powerful idea when I attended the Strategic Coach programme. The programme is designed for entrepreneurial business owners but I find this is an idea that’s worth sharing in any cultural change programme.

We get disheartened when building anything new – in this case a more effective culture in your organisation – because we focus on perfection. The problem is, we never reach perfection. What looks like perfection from a distance doesn’t look so perfect close-up – there’s always a next step.

Progress, on the other hand, is real and measurable. And that makes it a far more motivating focus than the mythical ‘perfection’.

So, if you’re starting out on your culture change, set goals and measures for progress. Once these are reached, set goals and measures for the next stage.

And if you’ve hit the inevitable brick wall, review the progress you’ve made to date. Write down everything that has moved in the direction you need – you’ll be surprised just how much has actually been achieved, and that’s a great feeling.

(4) Watch out for ‘sacred cows’

One of the most common mistakes in any organisation seeking culture change is to have ‘sacred cows’.

These are those influential individuals whose behaviour continues to be at odds with the desired culture but whose knowledge, skills or connections are deemed irreplaceable. With the shortage of skills in so many disciplines, and the need for highly specialised knowledge too, it can be incredibly tempting to turn a blind eye.

But allowing individuals to behave in a way that is out-of-line with the desired culture says: “We’re not serious about this.”

So, if you are serious about changing culture, these individuals must change their behavioursor be asked to leave the organisation. No ifs, buts or maybes about it.

(5) Ask yourself if you are blocking change

Can I seriously be suggesting that you – the leader of this culture change – could possibly be a blocker to progress? Yes – there are lots of ways that you can block the change without even realising you’re doing so.  For example:

  • You may have such a strong idea of what the new culture will look like that you aren’t open to others ideas
  • Perhaps your own behaviours aren’t as fully aligned with the new culture as you want to believe they are
  • Maybe you’re so attached to the idea of being ‘the leader’ of the culture change that you won’t let go
  • You could be aware of things that are getting in the way of the culture change and not have the courage to challenge them (‘sacred cows’ are an example of this)

It’s important that you regularly take a long, hard look at your contribution to culture change and ask yourself how you need to refine your approach.


Whether you are starting to implement culture change across your organisation or are already under way and have found your energy and motivation disappearing, these five keys to successful culture change will keep things moving:

  • Be clear about goals, success measures and ROI
  • Keep senior leaders engaged
  • Focus on progress, not perfection
  • Watch out for ‘sacred cows’
  • Ask yourself if you are blocking change

Which of these is getting in the way of culture change in your organisation today?

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