Why culture change programs fail and what to do about it

Creating a vibrant culture is more than listing a set of values and hoping for the best. My client Tony’s leadership team confronted the harsh reality that they risked becoming irrelevant. But they refused to accept their predictable fate and collaborated on designing a new future. They affirmed their commitment to provide extraordinary value to their clients. It was time to change their culture.

Tony had seen too many culture change programs fail because of a lack of leadership. He did not want to follow examples he had experienced where the company posted a list of values on the wall and all too soon ignored them.

Research by Gartner supports his view. They surveyed over 7,500 employees and nearly 200 HR leaders at global companies and conducted in-depth interviews with 100 HR leaders. The report suggests that many employees feel disconnected from leaders’ cultural aspirations. They found that on average, 69% of employees don’t believe in the cultural goals set by their leaders, 87% don’t understand them, and 90% don’t behave in ways that align with them.

Tony believed that culture change started with him. He needed to be a role model for stepping up his own leadership, before he could expect the same of his leadership team. He did not have to pretend to have all the answers or procrastinate while striving for perfect solutions. His leadership team appreciated his authenticity and the opportunity to create and own a new culture for the organisation.

The team took on a bigger game to convert their words into action by listing the ‘conversations’ and practices they would end, start and keep to support their new future. They followed Tony’s example and stepped up their own leadership. Through their actions, they now own a new culture that their clients value.

It is a vivid illustration of the point that leadership causes culture, not the other way around.

🙋 What is your experience of culture change? 🙋‍♀️

Best regards, Brian