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4 Keys to Changing an Organization's Culture

By Tim Deuitch

4 Keys to Changing an Organization's Culture

Is your employee turnover increasing? Are key metrics being missed consistently? Are teams not living up to the Vision and Mission? In Episode 33 of the Strategic Insights Podcast, Tim Deuitch, Bob Parks, and Joane Ramsey share four key strategies leaders must embrace when changing their organization's culture to drive performance improvement.

Tim Deuitch: 00:01 Welcome to the Strategic Insights Podcast brought to you by Strategic Enhancement Group. I'm Tim Deuitch, Senior Performance Consultant with Strategic Enhancement Group. Today I'm joined by my colleagues Joane Ramsey, Senior Performance Improvement Consultant and our Senior Partner, Bob Parks. Welcome, guys.

Bob Parks: 00:19 Glad to be here.

Joane Ramsey: 00:20 Glad to be here.

Tim Deuitch: 00:22 We're in the behavior change business and today we're talking about what just may be the number one behavior change challenge, and that's changing the culture of an organization. One of the biggest aspects of this challenge is that almost every culture change starts at the top and the top is often the place that created the culture that you need to change. So despite this challenge, culture change is essential, so let's take it on. Joane, I started by saying culture change starts at the top. Why is this so?

Joane Ramsey: 00:58 Tim, that is so, because the top is where things get started from the perspective that those in leadership are the ones that have the keys to the kingdom. They are the ones that define the desired values. They are the ones that define the behaviors that we want people to display, and they are the ones that need to align the culture with the strategy and the processes.

So they determine the Vision of the organization, the Mission, the values that need to be aligned with the resources they bring to the table. So think about if leadership is not defining that, then we're leaving it up to the employees to define what that may look like and we may not want that to happen.

Tim Deuitch: 01:41 Right. I think one of the things that's really important about the moment in time when they want to work on their culture, is that they must recognize that they were the authors of the culture that's about to change and they have to grasp what behaviors were they exhibiting that must change. So realizing how they must change is a very important component.

Bob Parks: 02:07 I also would like to add that in addition to vision and mission, good leaders in a culture change organization have to be much more specific around the metrics that they're going to use to measure given behavior, the consequences for performance, and what's their level of customer responsiveness? Those things have to be clearly articulated, so employees know how to react.

Tim Deuitch: 02:40 That's a great point, Bob. I have a client right now that is working on establishing, it's actually, it's not an overarching new culture, but they are working on establishing a greater culture of accountability. We're literally talking right now about what does that mean to the leader, and what are the metrics, what are the measures that would demonstrate the kind of accountability that they're talking about?

So let's decide, or let's agree, that the leaders have accepted the challenge, taken on the role, understood the way they got here, and they've articulated the type of culture they prefer. What's next?

Joane Ramsey: 03:22 So I think Tim, one of the things that you need to think about is that leaders cannot be everywhere at all times. It's really important to make sure they have a group of employees that are onboard with the changes and are capable of managing the changes with their people, so they're surrounded by people that really understand what the expectation is, what the culture change looks like, and what are the behaviors that are expected moving forward in order to achieve that change.

Tim Deuitch: 03:56 So what you're saying is, by involving employees from throughout the organization that are committed to that culture, you'll start to see those behaviors happening.

Joane Ramsey: 04:06 Exactly. You want to make sure that the behaviors, they're not going to change overnight, that would be an unrealistic expectation. You have to make sure that you are seeding the organization with people that demonstrate and model those behaviors you expect in order to gain traction and make sure that the change will take place.

Bob Parks: 04:29 I think one of the things to add to that is it may be uncomfortable for executive leaders to accept. One of the truisms of changing a culture is that no matter how good you are at doing that, you're going to also have to change some employees. What happens is, you have employees that are there because they like the existing culture and that's one of the reasons they're working for that organization. When you change that culture people get uncomfortable and they will either leave themselves, but if they don't, then you're going to have to separate them out.

Tim Deuitch: 05:08 Bob, that's so critical. One of the places we were going with this topic is, yes, as employees start rolling out the desired behaviors, we are invariably going to hear people say, "Well, that's not the way we've always done it." And I consider that to be a real moment of truth for the desired shift.

So that manager needs to either say, "You're right, that's not the way we've always done it and we're going to start doing this a different way." They need to model and support it, and if they can't or don't, you're right, we have to move them out.

Bob Parks: 05:49 They got to go.

Tim Deuitch: 05:50 Yes. Bob, let's talk a little bit more about the challenge. You've worked with clients changing culture in the past, what would you say are pitfalls or speed bumps of even the most well aligned and well meaning leaders?

Bob Parks: 06:05 I would point to one major pitfall that we see almost 100% of the time and that is underestimating the amount of time, money, and effort it's going to take to really, really change a culture. That seems to be almost universal. It is going to take you much more time than you think it's going to take.

I had a CEO who had a failed culture change in his organization and he had a great way of explaining what culture is like. He said, "Think of culture as the two great big fans that movie sets use to create hurricanes." He said, "I discovered that my strategies and goals and aspirations for this company were like paper airplanes. Every time I launched a new strategy or a new goal, I threw it into those fans of the culture and those goals and objectives came flying right back past my head." And he said, "It was only after I realized that, that I realized that I really didn't put the kind of time, effort, and money into culture change that I needed and I had to start all over again."

Joane Ramsey: 07:28 It is so critical and so true not to rush an organization into a culture change, because if we do that, chances are that we're not going to succeed either.

Tim Deuitch: 07:38 Let's review. I have four important do's and one important don't. Number one, it all starts at the top. The top must recognize their own behaviors that need to change in order to succeed. Second, define the culture you want and why, and involve your employees in the process. Third, involve employees as champions and defenders of the culture, but most specifically, so that they begin exhibiting the behaviors of the culture year after. Fourth, especially among managers, model, model, model, and if needed, change out the leaders and managers who can't do that. If you don't do this, your employees will not respond and the culture will not come to pass, and your strategies will fail.

Here's the big don't. Don't underestimate the time needed to change this culture you're after. You can be sure that if you achieve the culture you seek, you'll have the right leaders, the right employees, and the bottom line you want. If you have any questions or want to learn more, visit us at

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Published: November 19, 2020

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Tim Deuitch

Senior Performance Consultant

Tim brings over 25 years of experience working closely with business leaders throughout the Twin Cities and the USA. He has worked within a multitude of workplace cultures and economic cycles, helping leaders and teams improve their effectiveness and results. Since joining SEG in 2007, Tim has continued his work as a change agent, helping organizations meet their goals. Tim graduated from Warren Wilson College in 1983 with a B.S. degree in social work.

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