Changing an Organisation’s Corporate Culture

In the two previous articles in this series we looked firstly at how an organisation might go about unearthing its corporate culture and, secondly, how to measure the culture that is identified against certain key elements. In this final article on the topic, we consider how an organisation that is unhappy with its culture may undertake the planning and implementation of a major change.

How Did The Company Culture Develop?

It is of critical importance to the success of a culture change to carry out a thorough analysis of how the existing corporate culture has developed. The process may have taken a period of many years, reflecting, perhaps, the ethos of the original owner of the business and reinforced by subsequent managerial appointments that have mirrored that ethos. Many organisations acquire an unwanted culture inadvertently, through the adoption of a variety of business practices over a period of time. Certain businesses do adopt a specific culture that is clearly designed to provide a basis upon which it will strive to achieve its future goals. However, as the business moves through its organic developmental process the need for its culture to reflect each stage of its evolution may mean that the original culture has become outdated.

Recognising the Need for Change

There are many catalysts for the recognition of a need to undertake a fundamental change in the way in which a business operates. One of these might be a sudden and dramatic event, such as the loss of a major contract or a particularly damaging set of performance results. Another may be a planned evolutionary change such as occurs, for example, when a private corporation moves towards flotation. Finally, the need for change may have been identified during the course of a dedicated review of the behaviours and practices of the business and an assessment of whether these are compatible with the existing business culture.

Whatever the reason for carrying out a major overhaul of a business, at the same time that plans are being formulated for the requisite legal, financial, administrative and structural alterations that will be fundamental to a successful organisational evolution, similar plans will need to be made for the adoption of an updated culture.

Changing Attitudes

It is likely that most of those who have been involved in the business for some time have become familiar – and comfortable – with the existing organisational culture and will need to be convinced that there is a need to change it. It is essential, therefore, that the personnel are given a clear indication of the vision that has been adopted for the future of the organization and how its corporate culture has to change to achieve that vision. Because one of the key components of the corporate culture of a successful business is that every individual understands their personal contribution to the bigger corporate picture, this process has to be handled sensitively. It can be difficult to persuade an individual to effect fundamental changes in working practices and behaviours, especially where these have become entrenched and, in some cases, there may be insurmountable objections. Sadly, in those cases, the greater good of effecting the desired cultural change must take precedence over the natural desire to retain the existing staff team. The key to changing attitudes, practices and behaviours is to ensure that the personnel perceive that they are included in the process of change rather than merely a casualty of it.

Implementing Change

The implementation of a change in corporate culture involves various factors. Listed below are some of those that might be considered to be the most critical.

1. Senior Management and Executive Involvement

There is little prospect that the staff team will be carried along with the need to change if the executives and senior management do not demonstrate that they are fully committed to it. One of the ways that they may have to demonstrate this is through a change in their own behaviours and practices.

2. Document the Changes

One of the best ways of relaying the nature of the modifications that are required to implement a change in corporate culture is by way of a written exposition that clearly sets out the new vision and the behavioural changes that are required to achieve it.

3. Instruction and Training

An adaptation in a business’s corporate culture is likely to involve a wide variety of factors, including altering the structure of the business, adapting its work systems and practices, re-designating employee relationships, modifying customer relations and implementing different reward and recognition systems. Such a range of changes will necessitate the introduction of a clearly planned training regime to ensure that the staff team is made aware of what is expected of them.


The key steps in achieving a successful change in corporate culture are likely to entail the following:

1. An assessment of the business’s existing company culture and how it has evolved.

2. An evaluation of whether that culture reflects the present and future vision for the business.

3. If change is required, the formulation of a corporate culture that provides a solid platform from which the business is able to achieve its objectives against its vision.

The inclusion of all of the personnel in the organisation in the ownership of, the planning for and the implementation of the corporate culture change.
Changing an existing culture is far more challenging than creating one from the inception of an organisation. However, with careful planning and sensitive handling, a business will put itself in the best possible position to achieve the desired result.

Previous articles in this series:

1. The Best Way to Unearth Your Corporate Culture
2. Are You Happy With Your Corporate Culture?

Article written by Mark Edwards
Director, Adcurata Limited

corporate culture, business change, unearthing business culture

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