5 steps toward meaningful, enduring culture change

Talk isn’t enough to effect a full transformation of your workplace mindset and productivity processes. For a true metamorphosis, follow this protocol.

How to create enduring culture change

Too often, an organization will try to change its culture with an internal communications campaign, kicking off with an all-hands meeting complete with a slogan and a mascot.

Although this is a great way to launch your transformation, the work to change your culture is much deeper and not just a job for the communications team.

Culture, the formal and informal way things get done, is embedded in an organization, and changing it takes hard, continual work. Because culture work is nebulous, intangible and ongoing, organizations often look to communications to do the work, but just talking about your culture won’t change it.

If you find yourself in that position, here are five steps to create positive, lasting change:

1. Start at the top. Senior leaders must be at the core of culture change, from championing the changes to leading by example. If senior leaders don’t do this, change won’t cascade through the organization.

2. Define your culture. Know what your organization look like when everyone is operating at their best. The mission, vision and values are a great way to articulate this. Write or rewrite the mission, vision and values so they are memorable and empowering. Use simple, brief language that is easy to remember and creates excitement.

3. Personalize your culture. Make the culture tangible and relatable for everyone. Because it’s different for every role, have teams and individuals define what the culture looks like in action for them. For example, a graphic designer would demonstrate creativity by pitching to move the annual report from print to digital; a budget officer might develop a new approach to presenting draft budgets to the business units.

4. Embed the culture. Ensure internal processes reflect and support the culture, and revise as needed. Have HR use specific strategies to attract and retain diverse candidates if diversity is a prime value. Adjust recognition programs to reward those who demonstrate the desired culture. Incorporate living the values into performance reviews in a quantitative way.

5. Tell stories of culture in action. Use culture as the lens for all communications. For internal, embed culture messages into regular internal communications rather than using standalone communications. This works for most messages: In an update on quarterly earnings, share which culture-driven changes led to sales increases and cost savings. Do the same for external communications by incorporating these themes into your brand messaging.

A note about slogans: Putting a name on something makes it a project with a natural end. Instead, approach it as a credo, or something that guides behavior, especially in a difficult situation.

Kerry Francis, APR, is a communication strategist based in Ohio.


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