Organizational culture is “the way we do things around here.”  For some organizations, organizational culture is one that is positive, engaging, high energy, and with a high degree of employee loyalty and accountability.  However, a lot of organizations are just the opposite, in which the culture is negative, employee turnover is high–especially Non-Exempt, hourly employees–the management team doesn’t display good leadership skills, and accountability is nonexistent and everyone points fingers at others and rarely takes ownership for mistakes.  So, how does an organization actually change culture?

Well, for starters, there has to be an accurate diagnosis of what the root causes are to organizational behavior and dysfunction.  At RPC, we’ve worked with numerous organizations on culture change and with great success.  But, one common denominator is this:  senior leadership buy-in with senior leadership as the driving force behind the change has got to be there.  Without the vision and support of senior leadership, culture change is much more difficult, if not impossible.   One project that we worked on, it became evident that a Senior VP of Sales was not supportive of a culture change and he was not modeling the organizational values that the CEO and the Board of Directors desired.  However, because this Senior VP (we’ll call him John, for example) was quite successful at driving sales and profitability, his rather toxic behavior was simply tolerated.  Over time, however, John’s lack of people skills, rather tyrant-like behavior, and his sabotaging behavior caused several key, and very valuable members of the leadership team, to resign.   The old English saying, “Penny Wise and a Pound Foolish” comes to mind…  The CEO realized that the loss of several key leaders had an overall negative impact that actually hit the company much harder than whatever successes John was driving in his SVP of Sales role.  The CEO recognized that in order for the company to get turned around, something had to change.  He then asked for our help in transforming their culture.  On that project, we provided leadership training and then follow-on executive coaching with several members of the leadership team.  As a result of pressure on John to either “shape-up or ship-out”, he elected to resign as he realized that the CEO and the Board were serious that while he was successful in sales, it was no longer going to give him a political “out” so-to-speak.  After his resignation, the rest of leaders breathed a sigh of relief and were energized as they hadn’t been in many years.  Through executive coaching and training, they improved dramatically, stabilized turnover, and began to fix critical customer service delivery problems that were costing them valuable market share.

Sometimes organizational culture can change, almost instantly, with the departure of someone like John.  However, more often than not, we find that organizational culture problems are caused by a combination of factors and not just one or two individuals.  In order to diagnose culture issues, a gap analysis has to be done.  In other words, there has to be an assessment of the current state of the organization, to identify the core issues in need of change.   A tool that we use in our consulting practice is a comprehensive culture assessment that measures the 12 Indexes of Organizational Culture.  At the top of this page is a sample illustration of survey data in a Circumplex chart.  The culture assessment is conducted via an online survey, which is then sent to every employee within the organization.  The assessment is completed anonymously and it can be deployed in multiple languages, to accommodate employees who do not have English as their first language.

The online survey tool consists of 60-70 questions, some of which can be customized questions.  Employees respond to questions such as “I clearly understand the strategic direction of the company.”  Response choices are:  Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree.  Additionally, some of the customized questions enable a free form text response in which employees can type in specific details.  A good question we always like to include is, “If you became the CEO today, what is the very first thing you would change and why?”  This is an open comment question that enables the respondent to type in a text response vs. checking radio buttons.

Our approach to organizational culture change is a step-by-step process: 

  1.  We first meet with the senior leader who is responsible for the change initiative.  We either set up an in-person meeting or we schedule a video conference or conference call.  We will ask a lot of detailed questions, to better understand some of the organizational challenges and to get a feel for the current state of the culture.
  2. Once we have had an initial consultation, which is always complimentary, we can then put together a proposal that will include deploying an organizational culture survey to all employees.  Included in our proposal are several focus group sessions in which we come on site and meet with small groups of employees from various parts of the organization.  We perform what we call a “deeper dive” on the data.  We ask employees to give more specifics as to why certain aspects of the survey were lower, why some were higher, and in general to get more interpretation–from the employees’ point of view–before we meet with senior leadership to discuss the findings.
  3. We then schedule a meeting with senior leadership to discuss the findings.  We prepare data in chart formats as well as text formats, and we then drill down on key areas that highlight where the organization has opportunities for transformation.
  4. Once the findings have been discussed with senior leadership, we then collaborate on action steps in working with employees at various levels to drive the desired culture changes.  Part of that process may involve some HR consulting, such as if low salaries and not be competitive with the market were to have come up in the survey.  Or, it may be that implementing a leadership training initiative is the next step, if the survey data showed that supervisors and managers “talk down” to employees and/or fail to demonstrate good supervision skills.
  5. The time frame from start to finish is dependent upon each organization and its unique challenges and desired changes.  For some organizations, especially those that are smaller, the change can happen rather quickly with culture shifting almost immediately after survey results are shared.  When employees see a leadership commitment to change, they are often inspired by the fact that leaders are actually listening to them.  However, sometimes the change can take a bit more time, as sometimes longer term employees may try to sabotage organizational change.  An example of this is when organizations begin to shift from an entitlement culture to one of accountability.  Those long-term employees who have somewhat “coasting” for years without really being held accountable may really challenge the change initiative, as they fear they will not be able to live up to the new expectations.  Regardless, sometimes these are the key team members who must be dealt with if the culture change is to be successful.  Our partnership with our clients through this process enables a support function to be there, to provide unbiased guidance and expertise on how to handle toxic individuals who are resisting the change initiative.

For more information about how we can help your organization to improve its culture, please contact us at or call us at (800) 517-7129 Ext. 2 for Client Services.