How Do You Change Organizational Culture?

On Sunday night at the NRB Convention, I was on a panel discussion led by Phil Cooke. Our topic was “How to Change Organizational Culture.” This is something every leader eventually faces.

Corporate Culture - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #16830717

Photo courtesy of ©

Phil began the session by stating, “culture triumphs vision.” I agree completely.

Leaders often wonder why they can’t get traction in making the changes they know are necessary. They articulate a new vision. They change a few policies. They might even replace a few key people.

But nothing substantive changes.

The problem is that culture is largely invisible to those inside of it. It’s like water to a fish or air to a bird. It’s simply the environment we live in.

I faced this when I came to Thomas Nelson in the late 1990s. As an outsider, I was immediately aware of the culture. There were many aspects of it I loved, but others I knew I had to change in order to improve the operating results.

The changes in my area of responsibility happened quickly—within the first eighteen months. The operating results also improved dramatically. Changes to the broader company took longer, but, as my responsibilities grew, they eventually took root as well.

Based on my experience, here are six steps you can take to change the culture of your own business, church, or ministry:

  1. Become aware of the culture. Begin to notice it’s characteristics. Pay attention to shared values, the way people express themselves (particularly their language), and the stories they tell about their success and failures.
  2. Assess your current culture. Start by creating three lists:
    • What should stay? Write down the aspects of your culture that you like and want to preserve.

      At Thomas Nelson we had a performance culture that focused on profitability. I wanted to keep that. We had to succeed financially in order to resource our mission.

    • What should go? Write down the aspects of your culture that must die if you are going to go forward.

      At Thomas Nelson, we had a “closed book” operating philosophy. The only people who knew how the company was performing were those in top management.

      I believed that if we practiced an “open book” philosophy and everyone knew how the company was doing, we could all work together to improve results.

    • What is missing? Write down aspects of the culture that seem to be missing or weak.

      At Thomas Nelson, individual accountability was weak. People were afraid to take personal responsibility and this created a lot of blame-shifting.

  3. Envision a new culture. This is the fun part. Rather than simply complain about what is, begin to image what could be.

    Imagine you are working with a blank sheet of paper and anything is possible. What would the ideal culture look like? Write it down in as much detail as possible.

    I wrote down five pages of notes and then distilled it down to ten attributes. I then met with my leadership team, and we fine-tuned it. This became a blueprint for what we wanted to create.

  4. Share the vision with everyone. Culture will not change unless you cast a vision for something new. You have to articulate in a way that is compelling and specific.

    And you can’t just do this once. One of my mentors said to me, “Mike, you must keep casting the vision. When you start getting sick of hearing yourself talk about it, you’re only half done. Keep speaking it!”

    Why? Because, as Andy Stanley has noted, vision leaks (see his book, Making Vision Stick). Initially, the only existence vision has is in your words. You have to keep speaking it until it takes root and begins to grow.

  5. Get alignment from your leadership team. I’m talking about more than agreement. You need alignment. This is something altogether different.

    You want a team that buys the vision, understands what is at stake, and is willing to take a stand to make it happen.

    Think of it as a conspiracy. Not in the negative sense, but in the positive. You and your team are conspiring together to make a positive change that will transform your organization.

  6. Model the culture you want to create. The culture of a company is the behavior of its leaders. If you change their attitudes, their values, their beliefs, their behaviors, you will change your culture. If you don’t, you will fail.

    This is why you must have alignment with your leadership team. If they are not willing to change their behavior and model what you are trying to create, you must replace them. That may sound harsh, but it’s true. If you don’t, nothing will change in the organization.

    As Gandhi famously said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

    And by the way, even if the people above you won’t change, you can change the culture of your department, division, or operating unit. In fact, that’s usually how it works.

    That is exactly how I did it at Thomas Nelson. I started implementing what I am sharing here five years before I became the president of the company. Frankly, I think it had a great deal to do with why I kept getting promoted.

Is it possible to change the culture of your organization? Absolutely. But like everything else in leadership, you must be intentional.

Question: What would changing your culture make possible for your organization? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Jon Stolpe

    I’m printing this one out and pinning it to my office wall.

    Changing the culture in my department would bring a positive attitude to our group, and it would restore enthusiasm for our work and for our team.

    I’ve been with the company for over 16 years, and I’m in the middle of the pack.  Many in my department have been around for 25-35 years.  Change will be a real challenge.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Michael Hyatt

      You can do it, Jon. I started changing the culture when I was in middle management.

      • Kelly Combs

        Probably why you are now in top management. :-)

    • Joe Lalonde

       Take the small steps Michael lined out in the post and work at it bit by bit. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it.

    • Anonymous

      Jon, to begin to change culture, start igniting, inciting, and creating “experiences” among the people groups and clusters that make up your organization.  If you want the culture to become more creative, craft experiences that engage the creativity of your people.  The experiences that naturally take place will become the stories that will be told and re-told, which then becomes the social cues we all use that inform us how to behave within that community or organization.  The power of “experience/ story” is found in the fact that it can be accessed and leveraged by any one within the organization; which means “culture” can be ignited and created from any place within the organization.

      • Rachel Lance

        You can definitely do it, Jon!
        I just worked through a great book, ‘Change the Culture, Change the Game’ (Connors & Smith), that said almost this same thing. Experiences matter! Beliefs are shaped by experiences, actions stem from beliefs and results are, well, the result of those actions. 

  • Ben Lichtenwalner

    Very timely, Michael – my post this AM was on the need to “Stop Complaining About What We Permit“. Culture is often something people complain about, but permit to go on unresolved. One possible addition:

    7. Create a Sense of Urgency. You highlighted something many leaders miss – the very real impact culture has on operating results. Stephen Covey did a great job highlighting this on a culture of trust in “Speed of Trust”. In my experience, most culture changes are successful when there is an operating result tied to the change – even if loosely. For example, a leader seeking to influence cultural change may say, “We’ve had three years of declining results, so we can no longer afford to waste time and energy on politics and turf wars!”.

    Make it real, of course. An artificial sense of urgency may hurt your effort more than help it. However, this is a very real operating reality for many businesses today. As resources shrink from bad economies and increased competition, bad cultures of politics and blame games prevail. Thank you for great advice on how to counteract these trends!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Excellent point, Ben. A sense of urgency will definitely help!

  • Patricia Hylton Zell

    In education, classroom culture is also the basis of success or failure. I realized that, if I wanted my students to work and to complete their assignments, I needed to take steps to create an atomsphere that encouraged them to take the time and the responsibility to do so. And, come to think about it, I did the same thing as a full-time mom with our children. I think that whatever our positions, what you have shared can be applied. One of the most important aspects of life is to think things through, to set goals, and to take action.

    • Mary

      As I read MH’s post today, I found myself thinking “Uh sure – you’re the leader – what good does that do for someone down the chain?”  You addressed that point well showing people can affect change at any level of an organization.  That made me realize that even though culture is the environment, cultural change can’t be dictated.  It has to be inspired.

      • Scott Reyes

        Mary, it is possible to change the culture from any part of the org chart. Leadership is not about being in charge, it is about setting the pace.

    • Cheri Gregory

      Patricia — Great reminder. Sometimes I get so caught up in my frustrations over the “big picture” of my school, I forget that the microcosm of my classroom is under my leadership. Right now, I’ve got one class that needs an “organizational culture” shift, and that’s nobody’s job but mine.

  • Michael Nichols

    Great post! You mentioned, “Culture will not change
    unless you cast a vision for something new.”  ironically, to accomplish vision the culture
    must change. I believe these two truths are what make the culture-change
    process both remarkably challenging and rewarding. Michael

    • Tim Peters

      Good thought Michael.  I agree. 

    • Lily @Catalog Printing Service

      Good point. Those who actually survive are not the most intelligent or the most beautiful species, but those who can adapt to change.

  • Chris Patton

    I love the post and I know you are right!  My problem (I think) is that I am too much a part of the current culture to see it.  I need to work on numbers 1 and 2.

    I am beginning the process of putting together an employee engagement survey.  Is this something that would help?  Are there any questions you would add for this purpose?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, the survey could help, but don’t let it become an excuse for procrastinating. I’ll bet you have a better sense of the culture than you think. If not, pull together an employee focus group, make it safe for them to speak the truth, and then go through #2 above. This will be way faster than a survey and jump-start your momentum.

      • Rachel Lance

        Michael’s right. My organization has been working very intentionally on our culture for the past year. We started with a series of focus groups so that everyone had a voice in a facilitated round table discussion. Fast forward a bit, we took the Best Christian Workplace survey – our results from the survey and the analysis we did from the focus groups couldn’t have been more aligned. 

        • Chris Patton

          So you did the focus groups first? Did you include everyone in the process or just a representative number?

          • Rachel Lance

            Yes, we did the focus groups first, and all 60 staff members were included. Then over the course of several months we processed those learnings before we brought in the outside org to facilitate the survey and provide metrics.

          • Chris Patton

            Thanks Rachel.  This helps!

      • Chris Patton

        Thanks for the kick in the pants!  I am moving now!

    • Justin Wise

      Chris … I agree with Michael. You can literally start making changes in the here and now. If nothing else, you can start being the change you want to see. It might sound trite, but it actually works!

      • Anonymous

        Culture is “caught” more than it is “taught.”  Chris, Justin via Ghandi offers a practical how-to, in their golden nugget:  By “being the change” what you are really doing is inviting others into an experience that you create that informs them on how to engage.  And the experiences that get caught are the ones that are encountered the most.  Create new experiences that are frequent and are congruent with the vision. Over time the corresponding culture will emerge.

        • Chris Patton

          I agree and plan to be that change.  Thanks Coach!

      • Chris Patton

        Thanks Justin.  I am taking the advice and taking action.

  • Christine Niles

    Numbers 4 and 5 are probably the most difficult for those of us in the middle of the pack…I’m  in a Global 300 company that’s desperately in need of hope.  Leadership creates task forces to study the culture and conduct surveys, but years later, reality remains business-as-usual.  I’m still clinging to the idea that I can influence change in our world–thanks for a fresh perspective and some tools!

    • Caleb Phelps

      Christine, I would say there is no more prime position for change than where you are in your organization. Throughout history, it hasn’t been the top leaders who cause the ground shifting change for the most part. Instead, it has been leaders in the middle of the ladder who are aware of the potential problems at the top and wiser than the folks just coming into the organization at the bottom. You can initiate the change by being courageous and willing to steward what you have been given care of!

    • Justin Wise

      Christine … I don’t know if this helps or not, but the last position I was in was very similar to yours. Not a Global 300 company, but one that was (and still is) very, VERY set in their ways.

      I had a mentor tell me that it takes an org 7-10 years for substantial culture shift within an org. I believe it. When I began to see that the change I was wanting  wasn’t going to happen any time soon, I made the choice to leave the organization.

      I don’t know where you’re at in the journey, but at some point you will need to decide if you want to be in the change effort for the long haul.

      • Christine Niles

        I hear you, Justin.  7-10 sounds about right.  I’ve been here 12, and we were just turning in the right direction when we were gobbled up three years ago by a bigger fish (from Japan).  Starting over is sure frustrating!

  • Dave Anderson

    Wow.  Great concepts and timely.  We were just talking about our church’s culture at our elder meeting last night.  We agreed that if we wanted our church to be more outwardly focused on the lost people we meet daily, it must start with the leadership.

    Also, at work I have taken over leadership of many teams that required cultural change.  We would do a Start, Stop and Continue workshop which always helped me assess the current culture quickly.  It was great to hear directly from the people who were part of the culture.  Many of them wanted changes as well.

    • Caleb Phelps

      Dave, my heart resonates with you comment on reaching the lost by starting with the leadership. I often get distracted by meetings and projects within the daily grind that I forget to engage the very people whom the mission of the church is about reaching. Thanks for the encouraging reminder!

    • Jason Stambaugh

      What practical things did the leadership decide to do?

      • Dave Anderson

        1.  We are praying.  Praying for our hearts to be soften for the lost around us.
        2.  We each listed 10 names of the lost we already have relationships with and committed to pray for them and an opportunity to witness to them.
        3.  We committed to discuss our progress at our biweekly meetings from now until Easter.

        The premise:  If the culture of an organization needs change, it must start with the leadership.

  • Caleb Phelps

    This is so true! 

    Culture is the one thing that people can touch and see. Vision is often the long term goal that comes into focus as the organization is led to it by a captain manning the helm. However, with culture, it is everything else about the ship and the style in which it is sailed. 

    • Tim Peters

      Caleb. Good point.  Do you have examples of organizations implementing your thought? 

      • Caleb Phelps

        Tim, this is the culture we live out at my church. There is something tangible to the style of the way we do things that makes us distinct from others. 

        Culture is not cookie cutter applicable. It is something that must take root and grow out of an environment. 

        In our situation that means myself and the other pastors take an active role in shepherding our people, thus manning the helm. That, in turn, affects the style of how our church develops.

  • Ben Drury

    This is great.  Thanks.  I would add that processes and systems need to match the culture to reinforce it not work against it!

    • Justin Wise

      What’s the best way to get those processess and systems to line up with the culture? How does one do that practically?

  • Thad Puckett

    These are words of gold.  It doesn’t matter if you are a for-profit or a non-profit, every organization has a culture.  And as you say, most people inside the culture cannot see it.  I have been a part of a couple of organizational change efforts, most of which didn’t stick, because the power of organization inertia is pretty significant.

    But the parts I had the ability to directly impact did make changes, and we grew as a result — grew in the sense of our impact and fulfillment of the vision.

    I totally agree with Andy Stanley’s statement.  People need to be consistently reminded of the vision until they themselves exude it (maybe even without realizing it).  

    • Jim Martin

      Thad, I am glad you pointed out Andy Stanley’s statement again.  This is so true and one that I need to remember in my own work and ministry.

  • MW

    Michael – thanks as always for the posts. Having lived and led through two major culture changes I can give an AMEN to those listed, especially 6.

    I’ve recently heard around my organization, “if so-and-so doesn’t follow the desired culture then why should I?”  Just a killer to trust and momentum.

    Here is a question that some friends and I have been tossing around.  Is the “culture” of an organization same as/different/beyond/sub-set of the stated values of said organization? 

    • Michael Hyatt

      Values are one aspect of culture, but culture is much, much broader. Even the stated values are often different than the real values. ;-)

      • MW

        HA! And with that ;) I know there are lots of stories to tell. That is why culture change is the marathon.  A sprint to change written words is easy, but difficult to change hearts and habits. Thanks.

  • Ade

    Can the church be seen as an organisation. As a church leader I feel I need to be careful on that… BUT if I apply the principle, I would say by changing the culture, we could change a community. Thank-you for your recommendations. Ade (U.K)

    • Michael Hyatt

      I would say the church is more than an organization, but this is one aspect of it.

    • Jason Stambaugh

      The church can absolutely be seen as an organization. Changing the culture will certainly change the character of the community. 

  • John Richardson

    One of the toughest things a leader can face is an entrenched union or other group that controls the culture of an organization. When you can’t let people go and you have to work within strict job descriptions, it can be almost impossible to change the work environment.

    In a situation like this, good communication is a must. Sharing your ideas with your management team and building good relationships with union personnel, will help you share your vision throughout the company. While this can be difficult, learning to work with key players, and building trust, will help solidify the entire organization. 

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, and having a compelling vision is also critical. I always treat everyone as a volunteer. My job as the leader is to create a vision so compelling that they enroll themselves. As you mention, John, trust is also key.

      • John Richardson

        “Create a vision so compelling that they enroll themselves.”

        Sign me up!

  • Daren Sirbough

    I’m implementing changes within the Young Adults Worship team culture and so far it has been good. I am just stretching in myself to Model the culture I am wanting to create. I believe in each person but I know I’m going to have to do most of the ground work for a while before that culture becomes normal. As long as people can see that I have the Team’s best interest and God’s then I believe we will stay on track.

    • Tim Peters

      Modeling the culture you wanted created is huge.  Keep us posted.  

  • Kelly Combs

    There is a television show called Undercover Boss. I enjoy it because the CEO of a major corporation goes to work undercover with those deep in the organization.  He gets a first hand view of #1 and #2 in your list. Then at the end of the show, he reveals himself as the boss and implements changes based on what he saw. It is really a “feel good” show.

    I don’t work outside the home, but I can still make a BIG difference in the “culture” inside the home. As the saying goes, “if mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy.” I can build up my home or tear it down with my own hands. I decide the culture within my home, and I need to “be the change” to make any necessary changes.

    • Joe Lalonde

       Undercover Boss is an interesting show. Often, I think, the CEOs lose focus or forget what it is like to work on the ground floor. And how important those people are.

      • Kelly Combs

        I agree! I was the assistant to a Fortune 500 CEO, and it’s a completely different set of responsibilities and stress at that level.  I think CEOs can forget what the ground floor folks are dealing with.  And often it’s the ground level ones that make the first impression.

  • Scott Reyes

    I love what you said at the end of this. You were doing this BEFORE you became president. I think that a lot of people get stuck thinking that they cannot make a change without the authority to do it. This is not true. It is absolutely possible to lead your bosses because leadership is about attitude, intentionality, and setting the pace.

    People will follow the people who put themselves out front, even if they are not actually in charge.

    • Jeff Randleman

       I picked up on that same thought.  That means that we can do things NOW.  There’s no need to wait until *something* happens.

    • Jim Martin

      Scott, I missed this point when I read the post for the first time.  I am glad you pointed this out.  You are right.  So many of us focus on the authority we lack (“If only…”) instead of the opportunity we have right now to make a difference.

    • Tim Peters

      Good point on the authority issue.  At times you simply must “lead up”. 

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  • Eric Langley

    I have a team meeting with a client today on the first point, values.  This article will help with that conversation.

    The big question is, How do I get engagement from some that might seem jaded?


    • Phil Cooke

      Eric – that’s a HUGE issue with large organizations going through today’s generational transition.  I think it’s important to show them how high the stakes are – both if we change the culture, and if we don’t.  What will we win?  What will we lose?  Once they see the consequences of NOT acting, I’ve discovered it really gets their attention.

    • Cheri Gregory

      In The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer says of “jaded” teachers, “I am always impressed by the intensity of…cynicism, for behind it I feel the intensity of the hopes that brought these faculty into teaching.” 

      In the last 18 months, I’ve watched a skilled leader turn around a confirmed cynic by (1) taking the time to get to know him and value his unique abilities and contributions; (2) hearing about and validating the pain of the decades of disappointment that have left him so demoralized; and (3) re-kindling the hopes that brought him into teaching a quarter of a century ago. 

      The change was slow, for the cynic had built a thick defensive wall for self-protection. Rather than writing him off as a lost cause or even firing him (as has happened in the past, increasing the cynicism!) the leader was determined to bring out the potential he saw in the individual. 

      The end result is an effective, fully engaged master teacher who has started giving back to the larger educational community. And a leader who now commands the voluntary, unswerving loyalty of a man he treated with utmost respect.

  • Curtis O. Fletcher

    Good post this morning Michael but one piece hit me hard near the end.

    I recently worked for an organization where the internal culture was, quite frankly, badly dysfunctional. Words and phrases like “polite lying”, cronyism, “good old boy network” were  regularly a part of the conversation at the division and group manager/director level.

    I bring this up because you make mention of changing within ones own department. In this particular place we managed to do that even more effectively than we anticipated. Employee satisfaction scores and performance indicators all rose significantly. Other departments took interest in what we’d done and began asking if they could make similar changes, even asking our advice on how to implement them.

    That didn’t sit well. From the beginning of our “pilot” we were told that we had to “protect the culture”, although when pressed as to what that meant those making that statement could only come up with regular attendance at a biweekly ‘all company meeting.’

    We took many of the steps you mention above, even managed to create a formally recognized “pilot” within the organization, exceeded our performance metrics for success, and were verbally condemned by the cultural leaders up the food chain because we rocked the boat.

    When you’re NOT at the top there are those times when top level cultural trumps group culture strongly enough that you have to be covert in order to effect and maintain change…or move on. 

    • Joe Lalonde

       That would be a hard place to work for. If they’re that resistant to change, I wonder how much longer they will be around.

      • Curtis O. Fletcher

         It’ll be interesting to see Joe. They’ve been around a long time and what they do OUTSIDE the building is PHENOMENAL. Changes are inevitable so, as I said, it’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out. 

    • Cheri Gregory

      Curtis —

      Thank you for your cautionary tale. While taking a class in Leadership Theory, I spent a couple of weeks analyzing the organizational culture of my organization (very incomplete and biased, I realize!) 

      Many brick walls I’ve run into were easily explained. And I realized that many changes I want to make will have to start–and stay!–under the radar.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yep, I agree. That can and does happen. But think what you learned in the process!

  • Alan Kay

    Such an important topic!! With so much change going on in the economy and the world of business, defining and implementing a conscious organizational culture is critical in delivering ROI, having motivated and effective staff, and aligning with the need of customers.

    Culture is the glue that holds the organization together and helps it stay focused, make decisions and take action when things get complicated (which happens all the time).

    Thanks for your ‘how to’ insights.

  • Phil Cooke

    Thanks for your participation on the panel Michael.  Your great strength is helping people move from “hope” to discovering the actual steps to making change happen.  You opened a lot of people’s eyes, and I’m still hearing great comments.

    • Jim Martin

      Phil, you articulate in the second sentence the very reason I have been reading this blog for a long time.  I have never expressed Michael’s strength the way you did, but I can see that very clearly as I think about the usefulness of this blog.

  • Dan Stratton

    This is great advice. I have been involved in many attempts to change culture. Those that succeeded followed these principles. When our VP was able to define our role in the company with just a handful of words, repeated over and over and over, we finally all started to get it and move in the correct direction. He knew what he was doing. 

    I am in an organization now that is quite resistant to change. Newly minted as a manager, I look forward to working from the inside out, starting with my little team and seeing just how far we can push cultural change. This post is going in my “Review Often” file. Thanks!

    • Joe Lalonde

       Hey Dan! Congratulations on becoming a manager at your organization. Follow Michael’s steps here and you will be able to create great change in your organization.

  • Ryan J Riehl

    Love this post. It has me thinking about how the culture at my new organization makes my job difficult. I recently started my first job out of college and I’m wondering how to lead from the bottom.

    How would you adapt these steps for a non-manager?

  • Remy G

    When I worked in a consulting firm, I had the experience of being there at both the ‘worker / employee” level and then as a “manager” for a little while.  #4 is key, especially the idea of “you have to communicate your vision more than once.” – as the owner please recognize that it will take the culture a while to align with your vision, stay consistent.  You need us in the trenches to make the vision happen.  Give us a chance to ‘get there’ with you!  

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  • Kyle Chowning

    Passing this one around the office like mad today. Very inspiring.

    Thanks Mike!

  • Cheri Gregory

    #4 can be abused or at least completely misunderstood. 

    In one of my work situations, we spent weeks in a strong visioning process. 

    Then, the leader picked one line out of everything we’d done and started repeating it as a catch phrase, a marketing slogan. No changes were made. Nothing in the vision statement was ever implemented. A new label was simply slapped over the old package. This was especially discouraging, because massive changes were needed in order to fulfill the promise of the “new label.” We felt like frauds, living a status quo that made a mockery of all the work we’d done.

    • TNeal

       From a church perspective, I’ve seen the label/slogan repeated “We’re a friendly church” without any real understanding of what a new person walking through the door might perceive. “We’re friendly” usually extended to the present membership who enjoyed playing cards together on a Friday evening. I’m not knocking people who enjoy one another’s company, but churches typically don’t see how they appear to outsiders. Good leadership opens the eyes to the opportunities around us and helps us envision a stronger, more life-infused culture. Fraudulent feelings extend to the faithful as well as the educational or business cultures.

  • Larry Carter

    I have managed two teams where I work.  In both, one of the things I did was change the culture.  I have done it differently both times.  On the horizon, I see an opportunity where I will get to do this again.  I’m going to put this in what I call my leadership book so I can refer back to it.  I’m also going to pre-plan for this coming change.  Not sure if it will be in a year or two or five, but I want to be more ready for that one, since I think it will be the hardest one I’ve dealt with.

  • Andrew Sobel

    Great synthesis. Having worked with many private sector companies on strategic and organizational change, I would add a few supporting ideas: First, it’s much, much easier to effect culture change in small organizations. Obvious point, but I’ve heard quite a few CEOs of very large companies talk about changing the culture as if it were a 6 month project (instead of six years, which is more likely). Second, sometimes you must hire from the outside to stimulate the change–in fact, Michael was an outsider coming in. Third, it helps to incorporate “living the organizational values” into your evaluation and reward process. Hard to quantify, of course, but it really brings the message home.

    To Michael’s point about role-modeling: I had a client who became CEO of Corporate Banking for a large financial institution. To emphasize the value of client focus and client-centricity, she began visiting at least one client a day–in one year, over 300 of their customers. It had a huge, massive ripple effect in the organization.

  • kimanzi constable

    I especially like point number one. Too many times we’re tempting to come into a situation and change things how we want them. When we do this we run the risk of turning those already there off. Great points Michael.

  • TNeal

    As a former pastor, I can see the wisdom of point #2. You begin with making a list of the strengths (What should stay?) then address the weaknesses (What should go? What is missing?). I think recognizing the good already there is an excellent and wise place to begin building in change.

    • Jeremy Statton

      Agreed, It would be awful to accidentally damage the good while trying to get rid of the bad. (I’m trying very hard to avoid a cliche response about bath water right now.)

    • Cheri Gregory

      In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, the Heath brothers talk about looking for the “bright spots.” Find what is working and build on strengths!

      • TNeal

         Read their book “Made to Stick.” “Switch” sounds like a good one as well.

        • Cheri Gregory

          I’m LOLing at the different possible interpretations of your opening word, here.

          Are you suggesting that I read (“reed”)Made to Stick? Or are you telling me that you have read (“red”) it?

  • TNeal

     Sam, thanks for the link to the book review. The book sounds like one that would help most small-town pastors (of which I was once numbered). God bless you in your leadership role–Tom

  • Ron Mazellan

    Healthy culture can be the fertile ground of hope for others and the community in which they serve.

    The post on culture frames the concept incredibly well.

  • Bob Osborn

    Do you have any insight on applying this to government organizations like public education?   We get blown by every wind of the legislature, so rather than being able to focus on teaching future adults (we really don’t teacher children) to become productive, moral members of our society, many try to survive the present government mandate until it passes to the next mandate.  Each mandate is supposed to “fix public education.”  Sorry if this sounds negative, but since there will always be another government mandate, how do we keep our school culture focus on what is really important–educating our society?

  • Owen Charnley1

    By wanting your teams  to buy the vision of any change, you are trying to sell it to them. The adea of aligning does appeal to me. However the best vision is the one that is co-created by the teams and the organisation itself. If the culture is co-created  then it stands a far  better chance of succeeding in all its activities. I think any organisation that tries to force its vision or attempts to sell it  tot he teams has a lower chance of succeeding in the change it requires

  • levittmike

    Impactful post today.  Some things can change in an organization very quickly, ala the ‘low lying fruit.’  While many say these easy changes aren’t as important as the other changes that need to happen, making the easy changes that everyone believes in can help you gain acceptance, when the big changes come down.

  • Anonymous

    The “Culture triumphs vision” comment is dead on. But culture is often the LAST thing leaders think about and I like the methodical approach you ouline here.
    From my personal experience as an airport manager, leader in my church, and a development services manager the “modeling it” part is critical and tough. Somedays you’re just exhausted but you know your people will feed off your mood and you need to step up to the challenge.
    Another great book on the topic of change is “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath.

  • Brandon Weldy

    I really liked your wording on point #2, “Write down the aspects of your culture that must die if you are going to go forward.” It was more than just changing it. Those aspects must no longer exist. 

    I think I have been too stuck in my culture. I have been trying to envision change but I restrict myself by how things already are. I need to spend a day looking at the culture here. Then I need to start seeing what really does need to change. Great post!

    • Jim Martin

      Brandon, your first sentence in the second paragraph really caught my attention.  “I think I have been too stuck in my culture.”  On a number of occasions, I have realized I was doing the very same thing.  As a result, I would find reasons why we couldn’t do this or that project.  I was limiting new possibilities instead of working to change the culture.

  • Patti Schieringa

    If  God has use for me, I am making ready. I started today with Michael’s podcast info on getting energy. I will check when I have the most energy in a day. This blog has me more inspired, especially after starting an OT reading in 1st Samual. Check his podcast and get my thirty years of learning in one well-spoken nugget. God can do the impossible, but I Think it helps if we are physically and spiritually prepared. Our mind is affected by the foods we ingest and the exercise which moves the nutrition to our brain for thinking and praying and 

    • Jim Martin

      Patti, I wish you the very best as you move forward.  So glad Michael’s recent podcast and this post today were so helpful to you.  I have also been helped in practical ways and encouraged by Michael’s writing and podcasts. 

  • Patti Schieringa

    OOps, I responded to Mary and Patricia on getting inspired. I referenced this blog as inspiring me but after i read my words, It didn’t zero in on the culture change help blog, sorry.

  • Kari Scare

    My husband’s company is struggling with its culture right now, so this article will be very helpful to him. With the unexpected death of the CEO about 2 years ago, many changes have taken place. This CEO drove the culture passionately, and it seems to have gotten lost in his absence. But, I feel like there are several in the company want to get it back and to reshape it some too.

    • Jeremy Statton

      Your comment points out that in order for culture to ultimately change it has to be adopted by all. 

      • Kari Scare

        Actually, I think it’s that culture has to be constantly cultivated. In other words, it can’t be planted and grown and expected to stay that way without being taken care of regularly. When the CEO died, I think so much change took place that people struggled to keep up with the culture and legacy he left behind and integrating the change at the same time. Now, I think the struggle is to better fit the change into the culture.

        • John Tiller

          Great point, Kari!  Bill Hybels has an axiom “Speed of the leader, speed of the team”, meaning that the team is a direct reflection of the leader.  If the CEO dies, the speed of the team will change. 
          While properly mourning the loss of the leader, the team will be forced into a change of culture.   You’re right that it’s actually a great opportunity for your husband and the new leadership to create a new culture.  It’s also an opportunity for new leaders to step up, regardless of organizational position.

          • Kari Scare

            You are so right John. This is a great opportunity. I am encouraging my husband as much as possible, and I am praying daily for the leadership above him as well. They have a unique culture anyway, one that has survived 100 years, so I don’t doubt it will continue to thrive. I mean, their motto is “God. Family. Work. In that order.” They also have a full-time corporate chaplain employed there. This struggle is going to make them even stronger.

          • John Tiller

            That motto definitely falls under the “what NOT to change” category. No wondered they have been around so long!

  • Lincoln Parks

    The reason why most decide to leave Corporate America is because of the culture and the Culture of the people in charge. How can an employee begin to change the culture around them and have that affect management? Is the employee’s voice ever heard?

    • Jason Stambaugh

      Bottom-up cultural change is an all together different animal. You lack the official authority, resources, and platform. I suppose we’d need a different list of action items.

      • Lincoln Parks

         Jason, that is what interests me. Because when a Culture is set in stone at some organizations, how can one lonely voice in a Corporate culture  cemented in stone create change? This is where I most want to help. Bringing that voice of being “stuck” in a culture that does not look like it will change anytime soon. That’s my focus. This post was awesome to read however.

  • Eric Goodman

    Excellent article! I have came to my current church 3.5 years ago and I am still trying to change the culture of this church. As I’m sure you know the church is probably one of the slowest organizations to change around. We have remodeled, and cast vision for outreach, but our church is still very inwardly focused. I know it starts with the leadership and we have intentionally raised the bar, previously the expectations were very low and that is exactly what we got. Slowly but surely we are replacing people that are in leadership positions that should not be there, and replacing them with those willing to go the extra mile. I am also training new leaders, all while continuing to cast vision and be the difference. This church has been here 23 years and has been the same since it was established. As someone has stated, many people don’t change when they see the light, but when they feel the heat. I am committed to changing the culture here at this church, but the forces against me may be more than I can withstand and they may replace me…either way, I know who my “boss” is and I will always have a job. Thanks again for the reminder!

    • John Tiller

      Eric, you have one of the hardest jobs on the planet trying to swing the pendulum of culture in an established church.  Though, you certainly have the right perspective.   Hopefully, God will give you the gift of being able to be around long enough to see the fruit of your labor in that church.  

      One thing is for sure, though … If you are leading well, you won’t end with the same people you started with.

      Keep pressing on with an open heart to how God will use you!

  • Jeff Randleman

    Great information!  I know I will be referring back to this in the next few weeks and months as I strive to make some changes in my realm of responsibilities!

    • Jim Martin

      Jeff, like you, I will also be referring back to this post.  This was very helpful to me and am glad it was to you as well.  I wish you the best as you work to make changes in your responsibilities.

      • Jeff Randleman


  • Joe Abraham

    Thanks Michael for sharing your precious experiences and principles! 

    Though it takes a considerable amount of time to create a great culture,  I believe, for the sake of the organization, it is worth the effort. Real and lasting branding thrives on culture more than just color or design. 

    • John Tiller

      Great quote, Joe:  “Real and lasting branding thrives on culture more than just color or design”.  

      I would have saved a lot of heartache and money if I had realized this BEFORE starting my business, instead of watching it crash and burn, and having to re-build it with the proper culture!  

      • Joe Abraham

        Thanks John for sharing your business testimony in a nutshell. 

  • Jim Martin

    Michael, I read half of this post and knew this one needed to be in my Evernote.  This particular post is not only inspiring but extremely useful as well.  I have been thinking about this very issue on several fronts but did not have an approach for being intentional with this.  Very helpful!

  • Tim Peters

    #5 is huge.  No alignment, no advancement.

  • Tim Peters

    Healthy cultures attract and keep healthy people.

  • Byron

    I am excited to see more conversations revolve around “culture.”  Phil Cooke hit the nail right on the head when he said that culture triumphs vision.  The only thing I’d like to add to this conversation  is that what bridges the gap between vision and culture is “story.”  To get a handle on a “culture” of a community or an organization, pay attention to the stories that are commonly told throughout that organization or community.  To CHANGE the culture of an organization or community, change the stories that get told!

  • Coachbyron

    I am excited to see more conversations revolve around “culture.”  Phil
    Cooke hit the nail right on the head when he said that culture triumphs
    vision.  The only thing I’d like to add to this conversation  is that
    what bridges the gap between vision and culture is “story.”  To get a
    handle on a “culture” of a community or an organization, pay attention
    to the stories that are commonly told throughout that organization or
    community.  To CHANGE the culture of an organization or community,
    change the stories that get told!

    • John Tiller

      Excellent point, Byron!  You really can change the culture by telling the stories within the organization that represent the culture you want.  

      That’s a huge tool in the kit of a leader desiring to change the culture!

  • Uma Maheswaran S

    Many times, changing the cultue would bring the benefit of improved productivity and greater efficiency in the organization. Also, culture change would help in weeding out the negativity and infusing the positivity into the system.

  • Jeremy Statton

    Thanks for the tips. Culture can be hard to discern when you are in the middle of it. If you go somewhere new (such as a different country) you can see why they do differently which can then help to understand your own culture.

    • John Tiller

      Very true, Jeremy.  

      I didn’t realize it until visiting Costa Rica (both the first- and third-world areas).  It really gave me a whole new perspective of national and local culture in the USA.  I’m better for it.

      Mark Batterson says it this way:  Change of Pace + Change of Place = Change of Perspective. 

  • Baljinder Uppal

    Hi Michael,
    You keep on spelling Gandhi wrongly ( I have seen it done 3 times atleast). This irritates your Indian readers. Please fix it.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I am so sorry. Thanks for pointing that out. I have fixed it.

  • Sharlene Sones

    Great post! I love the “model the culture” concept.  Part of my work includes helping organizations understand the stories being told internally by the people who ARE their brand.  What are the stories they believe about the organization, related to who they are, what they can do and what they stand for?  What are the myths and beliefs, conveyed via story that informs the culture? The takeaway: want to change culture? Change the story.  Invite people into a role in which they can see themselves.  Knowing the stories that are being told is a great first step to impact alignment and meaningful change.

  • Michael Hyatt

    Love your acronym! Excellent. Thanks.

  • Constance Buckley

    Changing our culture at church would open doors to newcomers to find a comfortable place to fit in during services and outside of church, in forming relationships.

  • Kumarreddykevin

    Thank so much very important life changing information once again thanks

  • David Barnes

    An interesting bottom-up model for large organizations was IBM, where in 2003 then-CEO Sam Palmisano initiated a global moderated “jam” on its intranet among its 300,000+ employees to define the company’s values.  This was the first consideration of those values in almost a century.   The conversations, complaints and ideas were distilled to three essential values.  A company’s values create essential framing for its culture, and Palmisano’s approach was to create a culture of leadership and a management system built on those values.  Palmisano has said that IBM’s recent business success has in part been a result of its adherence to its values.    

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  • Greg Ligon

    Great post.  Another great resource on culture is Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code by Dr. Sam Chand.  Check it out here –|2470960|111076|2470960|111076

  • Don

    Once again you are right on the mark and so are several of the other comments.
    My helpful contribution is in the form of a small book called Follow to Lead which is about establishing a particular culture in an organization–any organization from schools, scouts to business.  The culture is called the Followership Culture and holds everone in the organization from CEO to today’s new hire to the same set of principles.  It can be viewed as the foundational culture knowing that each unique organization needs to establish its own unique positive culture.

    Steps 3 through 6 and the new number 7 in the comments are all facilitated by working first on establishing the followership culture.  It’s easy, follow the book.

    Michael, I sent you a copy.  Can’t find it, let me know.  See it at

  • Gilbert Montez

    I enjoy reading your blog, but this posting is my all-time favorite. Outstanding stuff here. Thanks for challenging us to think through these issues. 

  • Stephen Blandino

    Good words Michael. Some of the elements that I’ve observed that shape organizational culture are Identity (vision and mission), core values, philosophy, norms (acceptable standards), traditions, language, measurements, and behaviors (what you refer to as modeling the culture you want to create). I think this is the biggest influence on culture. Leaders can bark the culture they want to see, but until they model it, the desired culture will never materialize.

  • Miranda, devout Christian

    Now here’s a leadership scheme put into description and direction! The part I liked best was “I wrote down five pages of notes and then distilled it down to ten attributes.” More than ever before, I’ve learned that dreaming and waiting is NEVER enough! You must directionally and realistically put things down (on paper if you will) for progress of any kind to happen, not just changing the culture in an organization.

    Well done!

  • Anonymous

    Michael, intentional leadership is the key.

    Leadership is influence.  Influence is power.  Leadership is not a position or a title. Therefore, anyone can be a leader.  What you do with your power, however, will determine what kind of leader you really are.  You are either a pride based leader or a humility based leader.

    Here are the characteristics of each:
    Pride Based Leadership:  Dominatior, For Myself, Always have something to prove, Always have something to lose, Always have something to hide, and Overpowering.

    Humility based leadership:  Liberator, For Others, Nothing to prove, Nothing to lose, Nothing to hide, Empowering.

    What is culture?  I know that their are a 1000 ways to describe it, but at its core, culture is essentially people and personalities.  When you hire someone, you are renting their behavior.  People are culture.  Healthy culture doesn’t exist if we try to create it with slogans and surprises alone (catchy gimmicks and internal p.r. campaigns).  If  we want to truly change the culture, we need to liberate others to believe THEY are the culture.   When we liberate others to believe they don’t have to wait for someone else to create the kind of healthy culture we all desire,  we have liberated and empowered them to actually BE and create that culture right now. If you happen to have a title that to gives you the privilege and power to lead others, you have the honor of liberating and empowering others to do the same. 

    I do agree that the kind of culture you desire needs to be defined, shared, and then expected.  That is the role of the leader in charge.  In my experience though, I’ve too often witnessed the leader expect change that they themselves don’t yet possess.  True culture change begins with THE LEADER in charge.  As my mentor Dr. Nathan Baxter says, “If you want to lead others well, you have to first do the work of leading yourself well. 

    Are we dominating or a liberating our people?  It’s the single greatest difference between a having thriving
    or a dying culture. Everyone is a leader.  Everyone has influence.  Everyone has power.  Liberate and empower people to be true to who they are as they strive to lead in a noble and pure way.  If people don’t believe that you are for them, you can forget about creating a thriving culture.  Is your leadership dead, or alive?

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  • Bret Maukonen

    “culture triumphs vision” or is it “culture trumps vision”?

  • Don

    Culture can be crafted to give life to the vision.

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  • Anonymous

    I know I’m late to the party, but thank you so much for this post. It has been continually marked as “unread” in my google reader so I can be sure to get back to it. I read all your posts and glean a good info from them all, but not since your “how to create a speaker page” has a post been EXACTLY what I needed right now. 

    I am completely re-organizing our ministry right now, and this post could not have been more pointed and perfect. Thank you again, my friend.

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  • Lpellet

    Great article, but I suggest adding in a quantitative assessment
    to ensure you capture all of the cultural indicators that might not be
    observable. Also would toss in a Values gap analysis that includes feedback
    from all employees.

  • David @ Time Clock

    Great post about company culture. You want people to want to come in and punch the time clock – not run the other way! Thanks for sharing – very inspirational!

  • Don Mercer
  • stressforsucess

    Negativity. Running rampant in our division, is the backward compliment and joking that is truth in disguise. You know the type, “Im just kidding” they say. Another aspect of noticing and dwelling on the bad and mentioning the good in passing. Every compliment is followed by a disappointment there is no room for success. Instead of celebrating the successes they belittle the failures. Employee is pitted against employee. You have to compete for your shift. You have a focus on quantity instead of quality. Every bending of the rules is overlooked for the ones who make you look good while focusing on each action of a different employee each month making them the scapegoat so focus is off of managment. Regimented, unbending. aloof, sarcastic, snide, passive agressive managment. Frightened, angry, isolated, uninvolved, sarcastic employees. How could you possibly expect change from this?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Why do you stay in this environment? That is not a rhetorical question. I am sincere. What keeps you there?

  • Culturechange

      I have enjoyed reading this great article about subject i am very interested in.

    C = ControlU = UnderstandingL = LeadershipT = TrustU = UnafraidR = ResponsiveE = Execution

  • Duncan Stuart

    Good pragmatic advice in your article. However I think there’s a question that comes first: does the culture need changing? Sometimes a perfectly good culture is well suited to achieve everything the organisation wishes to achieve – but the problem is that the subtribes (the money people, the engineers, the marketing people) don’t fully talk to each other. It’s like the three gears in a well oiled gearbox don’t totally mesh.  So rather than starting off by thinking: right – we need to change the culture, a preliminary step might be taken: let’s identify our objectives and work out how better to meet these.  If this doesn’t work, then start considering the culture.  The knack is to tap into willing change first, before foisting uncomfortable changes upon the crew.

    I do worry that if every CEO seeks to transform a corporate culture, and quickly, then a probable side-effect will be the development of an institutional resistance to change: especially if CEOs come and go frequently. The result will be an arms folded “here comes another one” from the team, and then, at that point, the organisation will have deeply serious issues that won’t be hard to shake. 

    That’s also where your advice about getting alignment from the senior team is pivotal.

  • Karl Rohde

    Thanks Michael. I’m of the view culture is about intention and the collective efforts of individuals. It starts with each of us. I wrote this article to capture my ideas around building the type of culture one would want to work in.

  • Ahmed Alfrttoosi

    The organization must plan where it wants to go before
    trying to make any changes in the organizational culture. With a clear picture
    of where the organization is currently, the organization can plan where it
    wants to be next .Organizational culture grows over time

  • Dhana

    Thanks for this, Michael. Can you pls write a post on Cultural Change and its Operational Implications and how to navigate around it successfully ?. Would appreciate that.