Employee communications

Changing your organization’s culture is not a piece of cake.


A few years ago, I witnessed one of the worst rebranding rollouts I have ever seen. It was sloppy and unorganized and did not follow a well-executed timeline. Even worse, the rebrand announcement event for the organization’s employees was underprepared. Additionally, the organization’s leaders did not clearly communicate the purpose of the rebrand nor present a unified vision for why the rebrand was happening. Instead the announcement event produced two things, a cake with the new logo and an organization filled with employees confused as to why a rebrand was even happening.

While many PR and marketing professionals have heard of or experienced similar horror stories from clueless clients over the years, the troubling thing about this rollout was that it happened at a PR and marketing agency. The organization wanted to integrate and reenergize its workforce and make itself a more client focused agency overall. In short, it wanted to change its culture and the agency’s executive management decided a rebrand was the best way to do this. This approach may have worked for their clients when trying to reenergize their public persona, but when it comes to changing the culture of an organization simply saying “this is who we are now” and slapping a new logo on a cake doesn’t work when trying to change the culture of an organization.

One of the biggest challenges any organization faces is how to create a culture where employees enjoy working and produce higher quality work than their competitors. Before any organization undergoes a conscious effort to change its culture, it should take a long hard look to see if it will resolve the underlying issues that have led to considering the need for a change in the culture. Corporate culture change is an arduous process to undertake and it does not happen overnight, but if you decide that culture change is needed and are able to successfully enact that culture change you will see marked improvement in employee engagement, production, and output.

If you are looking to make a culture change in your organization, department, or even your team, here are three things you need to do to make sure that change is successful.

Start with your why

One of the biggest reasons why many organizations fail when trying to change their culture is because they do not know (or understand?) the “why” behind the change they are trying to make. One of the most famous TED talks ever given was “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek, in fact it was so popular that Mr. Sinek used it for the basis of a bestselling book of the same name. Simon Sinek states that the exceptional companies and organizations around the world are the ones that have a great understanding of not just what they do, but why they exist.

In his book Simon Sinek details how every organization operates on three levels which he calls the “Golden Circle.” The circle is divided into three layers (think layers of an onion), the outer layer is what we do, the middle layer is how we do it and the inner part of the circle is why we do it. Almost all organizations know what they do and many know how they do it, but the truly great organizations are the ones that truly understand and can articulate why it is they do what they do.

The truly great organizations are the ones that truly understand why it is they do what they do. Click To Tweet

So if you want to truly change the culture of your organization, you need to know why your organization exists in the first place. Think of that why as the purpose or the belief or the cause that drives your organization, or your team. Once you start aligning with your why you will see the positive culture change you seek. The remarkable thing about finding your why is its universality.  It can be applied to a global organization like Microsoft or to a small team or department of three or four.

To give you an example, one of my first jobs while in college was working at one of Apple’s regional campuses. Everything that was done on that campus from management to those of us working in the mail room aligned with Apple’s why. Every team and department knew why Apple was in business and their culture reflected that. As Simon Sinek points out in his TED Talk, Apple understands their why very well.

Practice what you preach

Simon Sinek mentions that people are drawn to organizations that operate with a purpose. He explains that it is human nature to want to be a part of something that makes us feel as if we are accomplishing something bigger than ourselves. This is also true when it comes to employees and the organizations they work for. Those organizations that have the most productive and hardest working employees are the ones who have employees that fully buy into the organization’s purpose. If you want to have a high functioning team or organization then leadership must fully buy into the change it is trying to create. If an organization’s leadership doesn’t fully believe in the culture change, their employees will pick up on that lack of buy in and change will never happen. People instinctively take their cues from the leaders in their organization and if those leaders are not aligning themselves with the new culture, then why should they?

People instinctively take their cues from the leaders in their organization. Click To Tweet

Think about it another way, the human brain is an amazing and complex organ that science tells us is responsible for logical and analytical thought (the neocortex) but is also responsible for our core emotions and feelings (the limbic system). The neocortex is also responsible for language, but the limbic system has no capacity for language, just emotions. This is why, according to Simon Sinek, we have difficulty putting emotions into words and is why we have “gut feelings” about interactions or situations we encounter. Now consider that you are trying to change the culture of your organization or department but you or your department managers don’t fully believe in that change.  Your employees are going have that “gut feeling” that leadership is not on board with the change and they will not be on board with it either.

For an example, let’s go back to the rollout I mentioned earlier. The executive leadership felt a change in the organization’s culture was needed to get their employees more engaged and produce better results. The idea of starting anew, with a new logo and a new emphasis on its client-centered focus is a good way to kick start that change, but it means nothing if there is no follow through. After a very uninspired reveal and mixed messages from leadership, the rollout event left employees with more questions than answers and the agency’s leadership never truly followed through on the changes they said were going to happen. Needless to say, the culture never truly changed, and employee morale and production suffered.

Communicate the change clearly (and often!)

This should go without saying considering the audience of this website is primarily communication professionals, but one of the biggest flaws I see from those in PR and marketing departments or agencies is that they are great at communicating with their clients and fantastic at communicating for their clients, but they are severely lacking when it comes to communicating internally with each other.

If you want to successfully change your organization’s culture, then you need to make sure you communicate clearly what you are aiming to change about the why behind the culture. In fact, you may need to over communicate the shift in culture to ensure the message is getting through. There should be no question from your personnel on what the new focus of your organization is and why. That is not to say there won’t be push back, people resist change by nature, but if you communicate the new focus of your organization clearly and often, there should not be questions as to the reasons why the organization is making the culture change.

In all, changing the culture of your organization or even your team is not an easy task. You should take a hard look at the reasons why you want to make a change in culture because it can be a disaster if done for the wrong reasons. But, if you determine that a change in your organization’s culture is needed and it is executed correctly, you will see greater investment from your personnel and greater results for your clients.

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