The case for radical organizational culture change

  • by

Changing culture is not easy

Organizational culture – which captures how individuals behave – is notoriously difficult to change. Culture shapes how individuals behave – influencing all kinds of behaviors and views on what is important. It also shapes how individuals think they should be have – influencing what they consider appropriate in a particular setting. Organizational culture is thus reinforcing – employees learn the culture of the firm, enact this culture themselves, and in turn, play a role in maintaining the company culture.

This makes culture hard to change. It can be constantly reinforcing. Since each organizational member plays a role in enacting the culture, attempts to change the culture goes up against the reinforcing status quo of enacting and maintaining the existing culture.

Small attempts to change culture may not be noticed, ignored, or forgotten

Changing organizational culture is made difficult because attempt to change  it may not be noticed, ignored, or quickly forgotten. When top management indicate  a desire to for employees in the firm to behave in a particular way, if many employees simply continue following the existing cultural norms, the suggestion for change may be a momentary blip. The few employees that do take notice of the call for change may quickly realize that others are not changing their behaviors, and in turn find it easier to return to prior behaviors.

Small calls for change within a firm is easy to ignore, especially if others are not taking notice of it. The call for wanting a more entrepreneurial culture can be easily dismissed with cynicism if every year a similar call is made, and if every year there seems to be little follow through. 

Big, visible changes may be needed to shift the needle

Shifting the needle on organizational culture – and actually achieving a shift in behaviors – may require a quite substantial change. – much more than a regular company memo. Big, visible actions by management can  help convey the importance of a need for change. They can make individuals take notice – helping break the status quo that otherwise is self-reinforcing. Actions such shutting down operations as part of a company company culture change may help individuals throughout the firm take notice.

Bold actions can help illustrate that a change is not the regular talk, no action, that quickly fades. Ensuring that everyone is at once made aware of culture adjustment. Doing actions that are bigger than anyone would expect – bigger than are traditionally done – can illustrate the importance of the change.

Related topics: