Why Culture Change Fails

Why Culture Change Fails
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Missing the Target?
Are you aiming for culture change and coming up short time after time? You’re not alone. Any kind of organizational change is challenging; but culture change can be especially difficult because it requires changing employee mindsets and behaviors regarding how work gets done. We recommend that you start by understanding why culture change fails.

We define an organization’s culture as the unique combination of the values, beliefs, and attitudes of its workforce as a whole that govern how and why work gets done. And it matters.

  • Our organizational alignment research found that workplace culture accounts for 40% of the difference between high and low performing companies.
  • Research by Deloitte found that 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a clear company culture is vital to a business’ success.

Why Do Culture Change Efforts Fail?
We believe many culture change efforts fail because leaders underestimate the interdependence of culture with a company’s strategy. Strategy and culture are inextricably entwined; the WHAT of strategy must be aligned with the HOW of culture to achieve collective outcomes in a way that makes sense.

Reinforcing the Connection of Culture and Strategy
Data from our change management simulation found that achieving real culture change requires two things: the ability to link desired cultural behaviors to strategic goals, and the ability to reinforce that change with long-term, supportive systems and processes.

Succeeding at Culture Change
Once your organizational strategy is clear enough, here are steps that can turn culture change failure into success:

  1. Agree Upon Team Goals
    Strategic clarity matters. Sadly, 95% of line managers say they do not fully understand their company’s strategy. Successful culture change starts with having each team agree upon the WHAT — the top few strategic team priorities required to execute the overall strategy — before discussing the HOW. 

    Do not underestimate this step. 
  2. Identify Where Your Culture Needs to Be to Achieve Your Team’s Goals
    Once the team goals and accountabilities have been clarified and agreed upon, each team needs to collectively assess their current culture and identify where their culture needs to be to achieve those goals. 

    That means having real conversations about what specifically needs to shift or solidify to become more aligned with where your team needs to be (e.g., approaches, processes, business practices, communications, behaviors, mindsets, tools/skills, infrastructure, etc.).

    The more specific you can be about the particular behaviors that need to change, the better.  If you have determined, for instance, that your team requires greater innovation, you could define specific behavioral indicators such as,  explores fresh approaches to improve results, demonstrates inventiveness in handling difficult tasks, or generates new ideas to solve problems.
  3. Prioritize Cultural Enablers and Inhibitors
    Once you have agreed upon the key cultural shifts, your next step is to identify the top enablers and inhibitors that will help and hinder the desired shifts. 

    The goal is to purposefully leverage your enablers and overcome your inhibitors in order to align your culture with your strategy

    Typical areas for discussion include information sharing, rewards, consequences, decision-making, organizational structures, systems, processes, investments, collaboration, and leadership.

The Bottom Line
Culture change may be difficult, but it is not impossible. Are you doing what you can to encourage and sustain the change you want? Ensure alignment with your company’s strategy, clarify the values and behaviors that promote strategic goals, and reinforce those behaviors with positive recognition.

To learn more about why culture change fails, download Changing Corporate Culture: 4 Do’s and 3 Don’ts

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