Updated: Sep 14, 2019


Culture is such an important factor in successful change that it can make or break a change initiative.

In fact, it's during critical times of change that underlying culture issues rise to the surface.

Buch and Wetzel state in their 2001 article Analyzing and realigning Organizational Culture, that sometimes the espoused values and culture an organizational don't match the day to day reality.

The combination of espoused values, those audible and spoken, goals, philosophies, and strategies along with visible artifacts can tell a change agent a lot about the organization.

In fact Buch and Wetzel say, "many artifacts and espoused values are 'wish lists,' representing a desired culture that may be quite different from the true culture".


If an organization tends to promise things it doesn't deliver, if resources are seen to be unfairly distributed, if a large gap is perceived between the reality of the work and the understanding of that reality at the leadership level, there is a culture problem that will show up during times of change.

This lack of alignment can be observed in employee reactions leadership addresses change to large groups and in hallway conversations. And it inevitably shows up in various forms of resistance.

Usually, when redesign is desired, leaders need employees to participate, to do something different, to do something new that to change leaders is something better. However, if the organization is one that generally initiates change from the top down, employee buy-in will tend to be a challenging hurdle, the lack of which may send implementation right off the rails.

If and organization does not live the values it espouses, if employees do not generally see their needs as important to the organization, a change initiative might be the very opportunity for those feelings or resentments to emerge.

On the other hand, in an organization where change is accepted as a day to day experience, where innovation is encouraged, and where the environment is one of continuous improvement, employees are encouraged to share ideas for change as well as participate in solutions.

When improvement ideas and positive results are celebrated, employees can feel less like "employees" and more like members. In such an environment, as members of the organization, they are welcomed to give feedback about their environment and how service to the customer could be improved.

There are simple methods or tools for eliciting ideas from organization members such as, vision or improvement boards documenting ideas and tracking metrics, open and transparent conversations about change in staff meetings, and focus groups facilitated in a way that captures valuable ideas and input from members.

Employees who are recognized for their knowledge and expertise in their own area of influence can become members who are more willing to support redesign that impacts the whole. Culture takes time to establish and takes as long or longer to transform, as trust will need to be rebuilt and memories are long.

In order to transform a poor culture, organization leadership, policies, processes and behavior norms must be intentionally evolved.


1. Communicate with humility, transparency, and authenticity.

2. Show up often (be visible) and communicate often.

3. Take an interest in the people they lead.

4. Enthusiastically fulfill their role.

5. Know that everyone on their team is brilliant given the opportunity.

6. Listen as though organization members know how to fix a problem.

7. Don’t assume that only leaders have the answer and advocate for good ideas.

8. Acknowledge organization members who implement an improvement or change.

9. Thank members at every level for the important work they do every day.

10. Encourage members through organizational high stress times rather than immerse in strategy in the in the captain’s chambers.

Every person in an organization contributes to its culture and has a hand in changing or improving it. But leaders have a unique impact on culture whether aware of it or not. It is truly remarkable the shift in culture that can happen when employees know their leader cares about and values them.

Can you think of a time when culture had a big impact on the success or failure of an initiative?

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