Practical Steps to Culture Change - Part 3


In the third of three articles 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. In the second article I highlighted a technique for raising awareness of the organisation’s current culture. In this article I look at how HR, OD and L&D professionals can engage others and encourage culture change in the workplace.

Once an organisation has embarked on a programme of culture change, we all know that change will not happen overnight. It’s useful to recognise that there are five types of approaches people take when it comes to new things:

• Innovators – who are really receptive to new ideas, embrace change and typically make up 2.5% of the population.

• Early adopters – who make up 13.5% of the population and who are prepared to give change a go.

• Early majority and late majority (34% each of the population so 68% of your employee base). These people will wait before they accept the need to change. The early majority will be very much influenced by early adopters and the success of any changes that take place. The late majority tend only to accept change when it is inevitable.

• And laggards (16%) who are reluctant to adapt to new cultural norms and prefer to stay in the ‘old world’.
In order to help engage others in culture change, it is first helpful to identify which approach you have personally taken. For example senior leaders may be in the innovator box as it is probably they who are espousing the need for change. If you have been heavily involved in the planning aspects of cultural change you may already be an early adopter. Or if you have become involved in the change programme later down the line you may be in the early majority.

We know that the process of accepting and embracing change involves people initially burying their heads in the sand, feeling a range of emotions such as loss and sadness, gradually letting go of the past and accepting the change as inevitable before trying it out and integrating the changes in to the day to day norm.

Recognising where you and others are in the approach to cultural change is important. In designing and delivering interventions, do let people express their concerns and fears and give them time to discuss and debate. Consider which people within the groups you deal with are early adopters and how you can use this group of people to provide a positive example and reassurance to others.

When others raise objections, if you truly want to engage people in cultural change, acknowledge their concerns and involve them in potential solutions. Give people the responsibility for making things work, rather than closing down the issue or sweeping it under the carpet. This is often easier to facilitate in a one to one situation rather than in a group. Remember your role in culture change should not be to convince but rather to facilitate the engagement of people in new ways of doing things.

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

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