Cultural change part II: challenges and frameworks

This is the second half of an article first published on Team Technology that looks at cultural change, or team building for organisations. In this latter half, we consider the challenge of cultural change as well as successful formulas

The cost of cultural change

The full cost of a cultural change programme can be as difficult to assess as the benefits. Not only do management invest time and effort (in planning, listening, responding and communicating) but they can also lose things like status symbols – which are often inhibitors to effective teamwork across all levels of staff and management.
In fact, management often need to learn completely new skills, such as how to ‘market’ themselves to staff – in the internal customer-supplier chain: management are the suppliers of leadership and staff are the customers
The staff time involved can also be significant – they have to ‘buy in’ to the change, which means being fully involved, not only in workshops, but also in implementing changes during the follow up programme.

Cultural change: finding a formula that works

A lot of money has been spent on ‘cultural change programmes’. Whilst some companies seem to get a very poor return for their investment, they hear about a few well-publicised examples of dramatic success stories based on a particular philosophy. Yet when they try and implement this particular philosophy, it doesn’t seem to work as well for their organisation. Why is this?
Investment in a Cultural Change Programme has, to some companies, often seemed like gambling on the lottery. In fact, there are a number of parallels between doing the lottery and investing in cultural change programmes, that can help explain why success – even measured success – can often be misunderstood.
Most people get a very bad return on the money they spend on their lottery ticket, but there are a few cases of people winning time and time again using a particular methodology for selecting numbers. Yet when you try out their methodology, it makes no difference to your luck – you still fail to hit the jackpot. This is because, from a statistical point of view, in the lottery it is possible for a few people to have a remarkable run of good fortune – the odds of this happening are very low, but because of the large numbers entering the lottery, these things do happen. The truth may simply be that they have been very lucky. However, it is a natural human trait to attribute success to some particular course of action they have taken, rather than recognise the greater forces at work, such as the natural statistical variation in the lottery process. (This was one of the principles taught by Professor Deming, one of the quality gurus whose ideas were rejected by the West, but used to such great effect by the Japanese).
The same thing can happen with cultural change programmes – individuals may claim success for the actions they instigated, but not recognise the other factors that played an even greater part. When you try and copy their actions, those other factors may not be present in your organisation and the change may therefore not be as successful.


There is no standard formula for changing the culture of an organisation – there are a variety of tools and techniques, and you need to select the one most appropriate for your situation.

This article was first published on Team Technology

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