8 steps to implement culture change in the workplace

Last updated:
July 22, 2021
December 19, 2021
min read
Bev Campling
Table of contents

With rapid advances in technology, growing globalization and climate change, no one can say how the workplace will evolve in the coming decade. But one thing is sure: culture change in the workplace is inevitable. The one-size-fits-all philosophy of previous decades won’t motivate employees in the future.

An article from the World Economic Forum based on research by global professional services company PwC explores four possibilities of what work will look like by 2030. Each potential scenario differs significantly, but each is also a real possibility.

What business leaders need to know now

Like the captains of industry of yesteryear, savvy business leaders today are already changing organizational culture. They know that companies can’t afford to adopt a “go with the flow” attitude if they want to meet their future goals and remain competitive.

They also know that whatever advances move into the workplace of tomorrow, human capital is still going to be their most valuable asset. AI, IoT, big data, automation all still need to be developed, improved and maintained by people. The human element won’t die out; it will evolve. With the shift from mechanization to technology has come a change in employee and consumer mindset. And businesses have only two choices; adapt or die!

Does corporate culture really matter?

It didn’t matter in practice before the 1980s. Then researchers started connecting job satisfaction and productivity with the core beliefs and behaviors that governed an organization. They realized that how people were treated and encouraged to behave had an impact on business success.

The shift to creating and implementing a corporate culture didn’t immediately gain traction, though, and many business leaders continued to view it as a soft concept that could be handled by HR. That was until it became evident that organizations that invested in corporate culture were definitely more successful.

Today, a well-defined and developed corporate culture is seen to be a major factor in a company’s success or failure.

Where do you begin in a rapidly changing environment?

The starting point is to acknowledge that what worked previously isn’t going to continue working. Rigid rules and controlled processes are a thing of the past, not just because they don’t appeal to employees, but because they hamper work processes.  

The point is to prepare for change by focusing on aligning your corporate culture with current global trends. Your company culture must, however, be an honest reflection of the organization’s vision, intentions, expectations and direction. Executive management has to believe in and completely commit to the process of culture change. If they don’t, change in culture will never happen.    

The next step is to honestly evaluate your current workplace culture and be willing to turn it on its head if necessary.

Don’t expect change to come easily

Changing an organization’s culture is difficult because it requires dedication, ongoing commitment and plenty of hard work. Right from the start, evaluating the current culture will be a challenge. When employees hear that their contribution to surveys and questionnaires will be used to implement change, many may start to feel insecure and be reluctant to cooperate. Human beings are wired for stability, security and belonging. The idea of change means that people fear they’ll no longer fit in or have a place.

And that’s only the beginning. Once an organization has identified where and how much change is necessary, the next challenge is to get people to understand and accept change. Depending on how much cultural change is going to be implemented, expect to be faced with anything from mild resistance to threats of resignation.

The secret to successful culture change in the workplace is to proceed with patient determination and understanding.

8 Steps to changing culture

Changing culture in a small business or startup is easier than taking on the challenge in a well-established concern simply because traditions are well entrenched. Also, the bigger the company, the more minds that need to be changed, and the higher the resistance to change. However, changing work culture is not impossible, and it’s no longer an option, but an essential. These 8 steps that are not negotiable to begin implementing culture change.

1. Get c-suite and board members’ support

Executives and the board must not only give verbal support to change corporate culture; they must buy into it totally by changing their behavior. Apart from leading by example, they must be willing to invest in change. Leaders can enact cultural values in an organization through approving the budgetary requirements, participating in training and reviewing how future leaders are selected.

2. Evaluate the current workplace culture

You can do this with staff surveys and data analysis, but sometimes it’s best to outsource this rigorous evaluation to external consultants. They will conduct workplace audits, free of bias. Often employees are also more willing to speak openly to outside consultants on condition that there will be no negative repercussions for them. After evaluation you must be willing to take all recommendations seriously and be prepared to act on them if you want to change the culture.  

3. Involve management and employees

Depending on the size of your organization, you can either involve the whole workforce or set up individual teams within departments to establish what people want to know. Make sure that any surveys and questionnaires are worded positively and allow for anonymous responses if necessary. The aim is to determine what will motivate the workforce. Once you have all the data, compare it to the results of the current evaluation to establish where the most pressing issues are. Also identify deeply rooted problems that exist.

4. Have the courage to attack pressing issues immediately

Once you’ve identified problem areas, you have to start taking immediate action. Whether the issues are people related, technology, policies or poor communication, address them with urgency. Set up teams to brainstorm solutions and involve executives as much as possible. If necessary, include specific employees to find answers. Identify what will improve productivity and implement change as quickly as possible. Don’t be afraid to change staff either. If there are individuals who bring negativity into the work environment, let them go. Show that you are serious about changing workplace culture.

5. Keep the lines of communication open

Share regular updates and make sure that staff are kept updated on all progress and impending changes. Avoid an attitude of dictating change and don’t threaten or coerce people. Be open to employee feedback throughout the process of change. Take note, acknowledge concerns and address matters so that staff feel heard and know that they are part of the process.

6. Write your corporate culture into your policies and brand

Rewrite company policies and procedures. Get HR to work closely with the marketing department to ensure that your employer branding reflects your company culture. Revaluate your employer value proposition. Check your recruitment systems and implement more efficient hiring processes. Get hiring teams to focus on cultural fit questions for all new hires.

7. Review your HR systems

Bring systems such as remuneration, benefits, performance management, recognition and reward, and promotion in line with your corporate culture. There’s little value in promoting fairness and transparency, for example, when lines for a pay rise or promotion are blurred. Also, write a clear and detailed disciplinary process into your HR policies. Transgressions must be categorized, and all staff must be treated equally and fairly, irrespective of who they are or their position.

8. Implement training and support systems

Cultural change won’t happen overnight (or even within a year), so bring in training courses and support systems to help teams and individuals through the transition. The emphasis must be on explaining why change is necessary and how it will benefit people and the company as a whole. Help employees understand where they fit into the big picture so that they can see that their contribution matters. Promote a sense of belonging and individual value.


There is no right or wrong corporate culture, but the world today wants to see progressive companies that care about people, the environment, transparency and fairness. Accepting diversity of all kinds, embracing minorities and flexibility are high on peoples’ list of desired traits.  

You will have to define your own corporate culture based on your industry, vision and market sector. Once you start defining your culture, know that it’s a constant work in progress. It has to evolve to remain relevant, and employees input has to be an ongoing part of the process.

Also, don’t expect that staff will automatically buy into your corporate culture even after it’s been implemented and established. People are all different, and perspectives and motivators vary. Employers have to continuously market and promote the company culture to staff and reward those who do their best to live by the culture daily.

Relevant: How to manage change in your organization

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