Changing Corporate Culture 101

Your organization’s culture wasn’t created in one day; it is the culmination of every day that has transpired since the day your organization was founded. Certain aspects of your company’s culture may have shifted significantly with new talent and business priorities, but most aspects are simply reinforced in small ways every day.
Those subtle reinforcements are solidifying the underlying assumptions that ultimately drive your company’s culture. To best understand how company culture is created – and therefore how to change it – we use this model:

changing corporate culture

What employees believe about the way things work at the company consistently drive their behaviors. Unfortunately, these ingrained assumptions most likely overrule any one “culture initiative” you implement. This is why changing corporate culture requires much more than posters with the mission statement plastered on the wall.

The good news is: These assumptions can be changed!

Changing Your Corporate Culture

When looking at the model, “What we see” and “what we say” are the levers that can alter the “what we believe” base of the iceberg.changing corporate culture

Here are some considerations to think about when changing corporate culture, using one of CultureIQ’s core qualities, innovation, as an example.

Behaviors are reinforced through recognition and rewards.

Company X wants employees to take risks and question the status quo in order to drive innovation. However, senior leaders continue to recognize employees who successfully execute projects using the same processes and tools. This misalignment promotes employees focusing on the latter – since using the same process is still being rewarded.

Systems and processes can inhibit or enable behaviors.

Let’s say leadership announces that innovation is a key goal for 2017, but Company X’s performance management system hasn’t been updated to reflect innovation as a company-wide goal. If it’s not a goal that individuals are reminded of (and per the previous bullet, if they won’t be recognized for it!), they will not strive to achieve it.

A lack of system or process can also impact culture.

Company X wants each employee to feel empowered and accountable for driving innovation, but individuals do not know the process for sharing new ideas. Do they talk to their manager? Do they share with an “innovation committee?” Implementing a more formalized system or process can both guide and give permission to employees to behave in a way that drives change.


When changing corporate culture, think about how your organization is holistically supporting the change – are you recognizing behaviors that drive the desired change? Are your systems in line with new policies that drive the desired change? Although it might take some time, if there is alignment between “what we say” and “what we believe” then those underlying assumptions over time will change.