Making the Case for Culture Change

By Aileen Gray and Katie Camargo

If changing culture were as simple as following a 5-step “how-to” process, every organization would have the culture it wants. But as every leader knows, it’s not that simple. Changing culture involves changing mindsets and behaviors in pursuit of your vision and strategic goals. That being said, no matter what interventions may need to happen—from structural changes to reallocation of decision rights to new employee trainings—leaders must first make a case for change.

Setting a baseline

As the old truism goes, if you can measure it, you can manage it. Whether your focus as a leader is changing your culture or simply understanding the assumptions and norms of your people and teams, you should start by taking a baseline. This is critical to understanding whether your espoused values are alive and whether the behaviors you need to support your business strategy are alive or missing across your organization.

Measuring your culture provides a tangible picture of your current cultural state, but the true benefit is the dialogue it sparks. At the end of the day, a survey of your culture simply provides data about your people and teams: what they care about, what is working well for them, and what’s not. It’s up to you to take this information and act upon it so that your people can successfully live up to your organization’s mission and carry out your strategy.

Over time, re-measuring your culture will allow you to track progress against the original baseline and help you unpack how other shifts in your business are (or are not) influencing your people and teams.

Defining your cultural context

THRUUE believes what Simon Sinek taught the world: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” This idea is as true for your employees as for your customers. Research shows that employees are better engaged, better motivated, and higher performing when they understand and can connect to the purpose—or the mission—of your organization. In fact, employees who can link their individual goals to their company’s goals are 3.5 times more likely to be committed to and enthusiastic about their work.[1]  For millennial employees in particular, mission is among the strongest drivers of retention. This is why, when we work with clients to understand and transform culture, we start by asking this question: “Why does your organization exist, and why should anyone care?” The succinct answer to this question is the mission (or purpose) of your organization.

Once you know and can articulate why your organization exists, you have to articulate who you are, what you care about, and how you behave to carry out your mission. In other words, you have to articulate your organization’s core values.

Stated values should act as beacons in your culture to guide daily decision-making, help your people navigate trade-offs, and align everyone in the same direction. Understanding whether the values you espouse are alive in your current culture is another benefit of measuring your culture and taking a baseline. If stated values aren’t present—if you’re people and teams are not currently living them—then you must help your people adopt the values (and their underlying behaviors) needed to carry out your vision.

Building your case for change

Once you’ve defined why your organization exists and have uncovered whether or not your espoused values are alive, you have the information you need to create a case for change. Being able to give your people a picture of where they are and where they have told you they want to be is a powerful piece of the case for change. The other half comes from your ability to articulate why it matters: What will be gained from culture change? What do you risk losing if the way things are done around here stays the same?

Helping people adopt new values and behaviors will take time, but defining your cultural context and taking a baseline of where you are today will give you what you need to take the first step.


[1] State of the American Workplace Report, Gallup, 2017.

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