You Can’t Change Culture – Can You?


Culture Change – what makes us cringe or even groan when we here these two words? Is it the thought of tackling the impossible? Going up against a seemingly unbeatable foe? It is this thinking that causes many leaders to simply accept the current culture without ever developing a strategy for change. A recent post I read contained this well-known quote from Peter Drucker:

“Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got.”

While I believe there is some truth to this statement, after all who am I to completely disagree with Peter Drucker, I have a hard time fully embracing this. Yes, working with an existing culture is a good strategy for change, since, in some cases, an organizations culture cannot be all bad. There are often good things to build on, good leaders can identify “pockets” of a culture they want to build around and they understand how to leverage that into organizational wide change. The problem a lot of leaders face with culture change is that they are unable to find, or at least plug into, these pockets simply because they don’t exist in any significant size to be effective. In this case, what are we to do?

In his book Leading Change, John Kotter provided this definition of culture: “Culture refers to norm of behaviours and shared values among a group of people.”  According to Kotter, culture is directly linked, even dictated, by people’s behaviours or actions.

In my previous post (Culture is as Culture Does) I indicated that leaders who are on the culture change journey would do well to focus on understanding how people need to behave to achieve the desired culture. And, for me at least, this is the essence of Kotter’s definition of culture, it is all about behaviours.

If we can change behaviours, we can change culture.

Now, I will never say that culture change is easy. However, in my experience, if you focus on vital behaviours, the few high-leverage actions that if you keep doing produce the outcomes you’re after, your change efforts will progress more rapidly and ultimately be more successful.

But just how do you go about starting to change people’s behaviours and eventually your organizations culture? While there is no magic bullet, it may not be as hard as you think.

About Trent MacLeod

A certified trainer and lean practitioner, Trent has over 15 years of experience in operations management, organizational design, strategic planning, and solution implementation. Trent has a collaborative and communicative management style and focuses on facilitating, mentoring, and coaching to deliver results. His focus on continuous improvements within a holistic structure has resulted in effective, sustainable, and financial improvements. His experience spans various industries including hospitality, retail, manufacturing, and public services. Trent is a certified trainer of VitalSmarts training modules, including Influencer, Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability.


One thought on “You Can’t Change Culture – Can You?

  1. So true, so true!!! Great insight Trent!

    Posted by Terry Ramm | October 2, 2014, 11:49 am

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