How to Change Workplace Culture Successfully

9 min. read

Changing organizational culture can be difficult, but very important.

Can organizational culture be changed?

The short answer to this question is yes it can. That's the good news. Unfortunately, as with any sort of change, there will be some difficulties in shifting current culture to a more inclusive or diverse workplace culture, depending on your needs, but hopefully this guide will help you along through the bumps in the road.

Creating or changing a culture isn’t easy. It can be exhausting, it can be difficult, it can seem hopeless sometimes. It can be an incredibly difficult thing to sustain and is near impossible to do alone, even as a senior leader. That initial “sale” of new ideas is usually relatively easy - so long as we’re presenting those new ideas correctly. This is why there must be champions of any culture change initiative a company undertakes.


Company Culture is the attitudes and behavior characteristics of a particular social group -- in this case, that group is a business. A culture could be many different things. It can be a culture of hard work, a culture of fun, a culture of work hard/play hard, a culture of excellence, or any other culture a company would like to create; it’s entirely up to you and your professionals. But, if you’re trying to affect organizational culture change or create a whole new corporate culture - you need champions!

A Champion is a person who fights or argues for a cause or on behalf of someone else. The cause discussed here is a company’s culture.

Why changing organizational culture can be difficult

Changing an organization's culture is difficult because challenges arise around the habits that leaders and some of the more experienced professionals have developed over years of work and life experience.

1. Old habits die hard

A habit is a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. The work environment or work culture that many grew up in, and in particular many of the current leaders in today’s business world grew up in, is vastly different from what many professionals are looking for - particularly millennials and other young workers. It created habits that don’t always line up with the new behaviors that companies now want to promote in the workplace. New ideas that upset old habits and force leaders and professionals to act in new ways can be uncomfortable. One way to decrease that uncomfortable feeling is through strong communication and making sure people understand the changes.

2. The talk vs the walk

What typically happens is; at first, things go very well. Most of the leadership team and professionals are on board with the change efforts and are enthusiastic about them. They buy into the talk right away. The company holds training sessions and offsite workshops with lots of energy for new ideas and new ways of doing things. Leadership commits to changing the way people are talked to and talked about, the focus is shifted to the professionals and the customers instead of just making the number. A concerted effort is made to ensure everyone walks away from work at the end of the day with smiles on their faces and excitement to return to work the next day.

Then comes the walk. The business is still a business. Certain sales targets and financial milestones still need to be met so that everyone gets a paycheck and the lights stay on. Adjustments still have to be made when star professionals take Paid Time Off or have family emergencies to handle. People still have bad days and come to work with the rest of their life weighing on their minds. These moments of adversity are when people start slipping back to their regular and learned habits - good or bad - that may interfere with the changes you want to see in your company’s culture. The culture changes you are putting in place are given lip service, but people stop doing the things that will ensure the new ideas take root and continue on.

3. It takes time

Changing organizational culture is a bit like changing the course of a large ship – it takes time to maneuver and whilst the engines are pushing one way, the tides and winds may be pushing in another direction altogether. Changing a company culture is a huge undertaking, and eventually all of the organizational tools for changing minds will need to be brought out of your toolbox and used effectively. In keeping with the "ship" metaphor, think of organizational culture as an iceberg with most of its weight and bulk below the surface. Consequently, it will take time to make foundational changes that endure over time.

How does culture change in the workplace have a positive impact?

You need champions if you want your culture change to have a positive impact with any longevity. If you're wondering how to change work culture so that a positive and lasting change is made in your company, fear not. It can be done. But what if you talk the talk and then the walk falters and falls? Be patient. Don't give up. Don't fall for the trap of "Was it all cheap talk?"

Ideas were presented and the plan created, now comes the will and fortitude to execute. Was it assumed that just putting good vibes and good ideas out into the universe was all it was going to take? There needs to be a plan, and the plan needs to be executed. The steps of that plan need to be reinforced with strong change management from senior leadership and the desired behaviors and desired culture changes need champions throughout the entire organization.

You might find that you run into recalcitrant employees, but consider this: When you still need to ask that one professional to do that one thing again, and again, and again. We still need to answer questions we feel like people should already know the answer to. Remember this; the answer to the question of “How many more times do I have to explain this process or answer this question” is ALWAYS - at least once more.

The whole team needs to be fanatical about it, senior executives and the entire leadership unit must be champions for those ideas and need to identify other team members to step up and be champions as well.

Get agreement from key team members that this new course is the right one and get them to sign on all the way. These will be the culture champions. These will be the people that will broadcast the message of culture the company wants to have. These will be the culture leaders that help others in the company understand the vision behind the organizational culture change. These will be the individuals that set the tone and the example for others to follow; how to act in certain situations, how to respond to adversity, and how to treat other team members. These will be the professionals that exhibit the desired changes and new behaviors that will be central to the new organizational culture.

The impact of these individuals will vary by title and job, but more so by whether or not those people are thought leaders. A thought leader is one whose views on a subject are taken to be authoritative and influential. Thought leadership as a concept in business can range from influence on industries or even government policy to more targeted change initiatives within a single company or team within a larger organization. In the context of company culture, however, it is simply a person who has an influence on other professionals based on the ideas they present and the attitudes they display.

This may be a senior, well-respected professional who is not in a leadership role on paper, or just a charismatic young professional with little real work experience, but bold ideas and is not afraid to speak out.

This person may not have much in the way of real authority or power as far as the business is concerned, but he or she is listened to and regarded with respect by people throughout the entire company community. These individuals are essential to helping create a culture and are a natural fit to do so. Find a way to get them to support or subscribe to the culture you want to create.

Once they are on board, they will be the company’s culture champions. These team members will help when senior executives and leadership team members have to spend time away, or the shifting priorities of the business require decision-makers focus to be elsewhere, the vision and plan put in place to create an amazing workplace culture will carry on.

What are the reasons for changing culture in the workplace?

Changing workplace culture might be done for a number of reasons. You may find that an archaic way of thinking is driving the way things are done in your business, or you may find that a new generation has new ideas that don't fall in line with those of a generation past. Either way, corporate culture is inevitably going to evolve and change with the times.

Generation gaps

The 80s mentality of Wolf of Wall Street no longer applies. So many companies in today's corporate world were born of a generation (and most likely run very successfully for a time) that was steeped in attitudes and behaviors that are no longer appropriate or acceptable by today's generation.

Creating an Amazing Workplace

Employees are leaving undesirable workplaces in droves, and the creation of a desirable and attractive work experience for your employees is essential when it comes to not only attracting great talent, but also in employee retention. A better employee experience is largely based on the company culture.

Bottom line

One of the biggest reasons to implement organizational culture change is improved outcomes and better organizational performance. Better working conditions results in better productivity, higher employee morale, closer employee community, increased employee satisfaction, plus many other benefits, not the least of which is lower company costs and increased company profits.


Tackling or changing a company culture is never easy. You are essentially undoing decades of deeply held beliefs and shifting and challenging the status quo of the very DNA of a business and how work is done in an office. But if you have patience and if you have champions, then you will succeed and everyone will better off because of it.