Culture and Change – Interactions for Success

By: Catherine Daw MBA, CMC, ACC   Published: March 2019

Reading time:  5 minutes


In my last article I focused on the need for a different kind of leadership to manage our increasingly dynamic and changing world. The challenges of change make it important to consider the different ways we can lead. From the frame of leadership, it is essential to examine the culture of an organization and its role in successful change.


Organizational culture encompasses the values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of a business. The organizational culture influences the way people interact, the context within which knowledge is created, the resistance people will have towards certain changes, and ultimately the way they share (or the way they do not share) knowledge.


If you google change and culture you usually find articles, books, and ideas around how to change your culture.  And while that is partly the point of this article, what I really want to discuss is how we create a culture that embraces change and adaptability; in other words, a CHANGE CULTURE.


Creating a culture by design is always much better than by default. A ‘by default’ culture often generates a mash up of mixed messages, visions, and behaviours. There is even a higher chance it won’t provide the capability to absorb, adapt, and grow in an environment of constant change. Remember that great sage quote – ‘culture eats strategy for lunch every day’.


When we design culture, it is done with intent and with the past, present, and future in mind. A designed culture looks at the reality of the current culture, what is it we want to adjust and adapt to ensure the success of where we are going (strategy), and how we will get there (execution).


This is where change comes into play. In a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world we have almost nothing but change occurring. Change creates varying and usually high levels of stress, directly impacts people’s ability to adapt and lowers resilience in the face of so much change.


What shifts does an organization need to consider in building a change culture? Here are the five key considerations:

  1. Ensure change resilience is well understood, supported, and provides a shared learning approach to cope with the dynamics of change. Lack of resilience has a huge impact on individuals, teams, and the organization. Develop a sense and strengthen the importance of well-being at multiple levels in your organization; change fatigue sets in quickly, often without ways to cope.
  2. Allow room to fail – fast, often, and without penalty. Capture learnings and make shifts as quickly as possible. Be willing to take smart risks – allowing for potential failure while being ready to rebound.
  3. Permit adaptability – it goes along with fail fast/often. One size does not fit all and what we imagined the change would produce may not be where we end up.
  4. Build vision and openness to see through the messes and contradictions of change. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek clarity.
  5. Create higher levels of trust by opening communications up and down within the organization and externally.


Be deliberate in making these key shifts. And don’t wait – creating a change culture has been shown to make a difference in change success and organizational resilience. It doesn’t have to be a full frontal advancement – experiment, take baby steps, and test these five key elements of change culture to allow leaders and their people the opportunity to make it work in their own environments.


When it comes to change and culture in 2019 and beyond it will only be the adaptable who will survive.