How to Shift a Company’s Culture


The first question I ask clients is why would you want to shift the culture?  What are the business reasons that make shifting the culture a productive thing to do?  Shifting a company’s culture is challenging because people resist the trade-offs  that come with the shift, and people are often loyal to the old culture because it is familiar.  Shifting the culture one or two behaviors at a time rather than “changing” the culture can reduce this resistance.

In their book, Corporate Culture and Performance, John P. Kotter and James L. Heskett provided extensive research on the impact culture has on performance. They concluded an eleven year study by describing how cultures of the better performing companies had influenced their economic results because of qualities such as leadership, entrepreneurship, prudent risk taking, candid discussions, innovation, and flexibility. They saw a causal link going from cultures that value leadership and the other qualities mentioned above to superior performance.  So, if increasing performance results is the goal, then a culture shift is a place to begin.

Steps for Shifting the Culture:

1.  Assess the current culture and determine whether or not existing behaviors help or hinder the company in aligning with the present marketplace conditions.  The company must admit the truth about the things they say they do as compared with what is actually done.  This process provides a framework for identifying the behaviors that may need shifting.  Here is an example of a client’s current culture assessment:


2.  Identify the high-priority behavior(s) that need to shift in order to accomplish the company’s strategic vision and align with market demands.  For example, the organization above moves too slowly. The company would benefit by increasing risk tolerance and providing more direct and honest feedback.

3.  Implement actions to shift the behaviors identified.  Provide incentives and reward for early adopters of the new behaviors.  Build a critical mass of people that will embrace the new way of doing things.

Sheryl Troiani, Senior Controller of Granite Properties, said, “One of the positives to a “family style” culture is that loyalty to team members is stronger; however, any culture that tolerates lack of integrity will suffer from trust issues.  Trust issues will stifle thought leadership and creativity on even the most talented of teams.”   Sheryl is very clear about what works and what does not work in her culture.  Like Sheryl, be clear about how the culture impacts performance and how it has evolved over time.  Step back and consider the behaviors to stop, start, or continue and initiate a culture shift for improved performance today.