Creating and Maintaining Culture

Speaking with a potential client, she asked about the process to “rebuild” their culture. The ensuing chat was interesting (I would call it “great!,” but the client hasn’t signed on yet…!)

First, culture isn’t actually “rebuilt.” It exists — in complete form — in every organization.

You may not LIKE the culture, may want to CHANGE the culture, but remember: It’s a change management effort, and has all the corresponding efforts and challenges of any organizational change process.

A specific culture can START anywhere within an organization, though it can only really be DRIVEN by the top. The top controls processes, most motivations, environments, and sets values and acceptable behavior.

To change culture, all levers must be congruent… policies must match behaviors; values must be supported by procedures and accepted norms; compensation must match desired behaviors, actions, and results.

They’ve all got to work together, and when changing a culture (vs. maintaining), you really can’t afford even small inconsistencies.Without over-stressing my keyboarding skills, desired culture change will never take place via “programs” or other isolated events.

It’s gotta be the whole enchilada. It must have complete support of the senior-most staff, and necessarily reinforced (in part) via performance management.

In other words, yes Virginia, it’s a big deal…

But that’s just me.


Kevin Berchelmann


  1. says


    You are dead-on, my friend. Those quick-fixes you mention, I could argue, actually cause a ton more HARM than good; they seldom redirect behavior, and contribute to the shallowness in thinking that got them there in the first place.

    You are equally correct in your last paragraph. Frequently, leaders believe that organizational strategy and its culture are two different beasts; in reality, they must work in tandem — with strategy leading the way — to be effective.

    A bigger issue here, I think, is that many/most leaders don’t even realize how significant an impact is made by having a culture congruent with their strategy.


  2. says

    Hi Kevin, no its not just you. You make a lot of sense and I totally subscribe to your point of view. In our own practise, we find that many senior leaders either don’t have a full understanding and appreciation as you point out that all elements of how the organisation operates with itself need to be congruent and aligned for the kind of desired culture to exist. Or, they believe that a quick fix in a particular area, often focused on ” lets re-launch our vision and values statements”, will achieve the desired results.

    What they also often miss is that while organisational culture change is usually a large intervention which requires collective effort, leaders can make a tangible difference at a local level. Leaders have a direct impact on the climate in their immediate area of remit. Their effectiveness in managing the type of temperature and style in their ‘zone’ has a direct result on the desired culture – at least in their team or part of the business.

    Ultimately, organisational culture is greately influenced by the tone set by the leadership style at the top. Not only in terms of how they behave, but interms too of what they tolerate in others. Effective leaders have an intimate understanding of this and consciously work towards creating the culture that will make a difference to the organisations aspirations.

    This leads me onto a different point. Very often we find that senior executives talk about the need for a culture change or re-alignment. The question that needs to be answered first, however, is “what kind of culture does our strategy demand in order to fully execute it”? A discussion for another time, I think.

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