Practical Steps to Culture Change - Part 2


In this article, the second of three, Sarah Cook describes the actions that you can take to help bring about culture change in your organisation.

In the first article in the series I described the first step in culture change which is to articulate a clear and compelling vision of the future. However, human beings are creatures of habit. Hearing the vision of the future state, the majority of employees are likely to think: ‘Why change?’ ‘What’s in it for me?’  In this article I will provide a framework for HR, OD and Learning and Development professionals to help engage employees in changing the culture of the organisation. This involves raising people’s awareness of what the current culture of the organisation is now and what the blockers and enablers are for the future.

There are a number of useful techniques you can use to facilitate discussions around the culture in your organisation. You can incorporate these techniques in to existing learning interventions and team meetings or use them as the agenda of exploratory focus groups with employees. The techniques range from using metaphors and drama to full-blown culture questionnaires which you can use to audit your company’s culture. Whatever technique you decide to use, the aim should be to raise awareness of the need for change by helping employees create a cultural map of the context in which they are operating. 

The 7 ‘S’s diagnostic framework, developed by management consultants McKinsey, provides a useful perspective with which to assess the culture and effectiveness of an organization. 






You can raise awareness by facilitating discussion about the organisation’s:


There are many permutations of structure that an organization can adopt:

· Centralized

· Decentralized

· Hierarchical

· Flat

· Team based

· Virtual

Each has its pros and cons.  A good place to start discussion is looking at the vision of the future and how the current organisational structure aligns with the vision – where is the current balance of power and will this still look appropriate in the future?

2. Strategy

The strategy of an organization shapes its structure.  Likewise the behaviours and values of an organization can promote or undermine its strategy.  Discuss the current business strategy and how well it is aligned to future organisational aspirations.

3. Shared values

If you discover the passion of the CEO, you will discover the organization’s real priorities.  Is there fundamental passion towards:

· Making money?

· staff relationships?

· customer orientation?

Discuss what is truly valued in the business as opposed to the espoused values.

4. Style

How leaders behave influences the behaviours of their staff.  Facilitate discussions around the style and approach to leadership in the organisation.

5. Staff

It’s helpful to raise awareness around which tasks staff focus on most, where there are the greatest numbers of staff and what the needs of the customer will be in the future in relation to staff.

6. Skills

Discuss the roles, skills and knowledge that are currently valued across the organisation and what skills will be needed in the future. 

7. Systems

It’s helpful also to discuss the systems and processes the organisation uses and how fit for purpose these are now and in the future.  The answers to these seven aspects will help raise awareness of the current culture in your organisation.

Sarah Cook is Managing Director of leadership and culture change specialists, The Stairway Consultancy. She can be contacted at




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