When beliefs and behaviors are challenged by change

What to do when success depends on changing the culture of an organization


Many changes are titled as culture change, even though they may involve much more than culture. But since many changes rely on culture to be successful, the emphasis of the change is placed on people’s beliefs and behaviors.

Culture change is indeed an important component of many change management projects, but it is not the only priority – structure, process and people all need to be equally considered. But since culture change is often shrouded in mystery and confusion, it tends to be the focus or be ignored entirely.

When beliefs and behaviors are challenged by change, it is critical to determine how important they are to the project's overall success. When you are facing a project that requires culture change, consider these four steps.

1. Change only what is necessary

When a project’s success relies on changes in beliefs and behaviors, there is a natural tendency to seek transformational changes to a company’s culture.

The complexity of culture can make it challenging to understand the specific aspects that might challenge or conflict with the change the organization is considering. Still, transformational change to culture is an enormous project that will likely not add any more value to the project than just focusing on what is necessary.

Some projects require an extensive review and revision to a company’s set of beliefs and behaviors. The first step in any culture change project is to consider the scope of change necessary for the project to be successful. Take note of the other aspects but leave them for another project.

2. Identify what needs to be changed

Look for the key areas of the culture that could impact the success of your change. Some of those fundamental beliefs are:

  • How leaders manage and lead
  • How we perform our work
  • How customers are treated
  • How we communicate
  • What we think about change

The change may not have any impact on customer service. If that is the case, take note of any findings related to how customers are treated, but focus your efforts on the beliefs directly related to the success of the current change.

3. Present culture as one part of the change

Culture change does not exist in isolation. Show people the integrated picture and they will have a better grasp of what is changing. This representation also helps the project team to understand what changes they have to make.

For example, changing beliefs related to communications may require revised communication processes, new communication skills and different communication technologies. It is helpful to show the people impacted by a change what is changing as a whole.

4. Apply the fundamentals of change management

Successful changes in beliefs and behaviors require clarity on why the changes are necessary, what future beliefs and behaviors will look like, and how the people impacted will be supported through the change.

If the new culture requires skills that people do not currently have, provide them with the training they need and affirm them when they make an effort to change. Employees that do not make that effort will need prodding from their leaders and direction that the new culture is a requirement of their job.

How to design a company culture

Culture is the culmination of an organization’s set of beliefs, behaviors, written rules and unwritten rules.

If the success of your change depends on changing culture, see our guide to designing a company culture. We include strategies from changes that we’ve been a part of where culture change was critical to success.


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