6 Steps to Change Company Culture and Make a Shift That Sticks

UPDATED: September 19, 2023
PUBLISHED: September 6, 2018
a group of colleagues happy with company culture changes

Why should organizational culture be important to you? If you don’t have an immediate answer, it probably means this topic doesn’t receive much attention from your executive team. You may even think of culture as one of those “soft” aspects of business that doesn’t drive results.

The truth is, your company already has a culture, whether it was created intentionally or not. For culture to be a priority, you need to understand that it does indeed have an effect. A positive culture can boost results and retention, while a negative one can depress them.

Why might you need to change company culture?

Culture has become a greater priority in the last several years. Fun-loving or socially minded cultures get a lot of attention; we’ve all seen popular companies with perks and focuses including creative office spaces, environmental impacts and one-for-one giving.

Culture has emerged as a way to entice and retain employees and customers—and companies may use these perks and social agendas to attract young employees to arduous jobs. Doing data analytics all day may not be the sexiest job, but getting a free soy latte helps take the edge off.

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make when attempting to change their company culture is trying to force something that is incongruent with reality. Putting a ping-pong table in the office isn’t going to singlehandedly change the culture if the culture is already well-established to the contrary.

I once worked with a CEO who was an extremely critical micromanager. You can imagine the kind of culture this created. If she had suddenly decided that her company was going to be a cool and laid-back place to work, it would have been very difficult to execute. The atmosphere was so severe that instead of embracing the new culture, employees would have been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

How to change your company culture

Creating a company culture that has staying power starts with having clarity around values. If you know what your company stands for, you can translate those values into a culture. The key is to reinforce these values internally so that everybody on the team understands the what, the why and the how to execute work that supports those ideals.

Here are six steps to change and maintain your company’s culture:

1. Understand your core values.

Identify the three to five principles that are the most important to your company. Then pinpoint how these core values can become mission-driven and the ways they might influence how you work. When you implement values at the practical level, you can start to say, “This is how we do it. This is the XYZ way.”

2. Do a company culture audit to see what needs to change.

To get to where you want to go, understand where you are starting from. First do an internal evaluation to see how your core values are being implemented and demonstrated (or not) throughout every department. Then examine from an external perspective to see how customers and potential employees perceive your organization.

3. Look for the gaps…

… and identify what it will take to close them. It may be that the core values expressed by the executive management are so far off from where the company is that you need to go back to square one. Or you may just need to make small changes to align with your company culture. For example, if the accounting department is letting calls go to voicemail and not modeling your “customer service” value, you can easily institute a change wherein someone is responsible for answering those calls.

4. Evaluate leadership.

If you have a toxic workplace, the executive team must do some serious self-examination, whether it’s a 360 evaluation or bringing in an outside facilitator. Many times, leaders can be blind to their own shortcomings, especially if they have built a successful company and if most employees are tolerant of their behavior. A change in company culture that sticks starts from the top, not only when it comes to buy-in but also implementation.

5. Start small first.

Begin implementing little changes that fall in line with the stated values and fill the identified gaps. Stop trying to do everything all at once and instead focus on making the shift in digestible chunks, rolling it out over several months.

6. Keep it in check.

For any change in company culture to stick, you must be consistent. Make monthly, weekly or even daily efforts to support the new culture and to check in with how progress is going. Give your team tools to reinforce values on their own. One of my clients, for example, came up with an acronym that is descriptive of its core values. It is used internally and helps the team recall their cultural foundations in any situation.

Changing your company’s culture is truly a dynamic process because what it represents to you and your employees may shift over time. You can undertake this type of initiative when you want to strengthen your brand or enhance your ability to attract top talent. Whatever the reason, create a plan for implementation and execute methodically to be successful.

This article was updated May 2023. Photo by Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

Dr. Lisa M. Aldisert is a speaker, author and business adviser based in New York City. She is the president of Pharos Alliance. Her latest book is Leadership Reflections: 52 Leadership Practices in the Age of Worry.