MT Masterclass - Culture Change

What is it? It's a label to describe a wide range of activities designed to shift the prevailing mood and behaviour of an organisation, from today's possibly unsatisfactory position to a brighter, shinier future. It's usually based on the premise that an organisation's ethos may be malleable and open to the influence of senior management. The truth is that the culture of a workplace runs deep and may be hard to change. You need time, money, board-level support and luck to change 'the way things are done around here'.

Where did it come from? In our more multi-layered, hierarchical past, businesses didn't have to think too much about culture. Staff did as they were told or they were out. Now, employers are interested in what will motivate and engage their workforces, and how the workplace culture helps or hinders them in this. If we need to change that culture, how can we go about it? Edgar Schein's work Organisational Culture and Leadership (1985) is a key text here. Schein sees culture as multi-faceted: there are surface-level signs - parking places, canteens; intermediary ones - 'espoused values'; and base-level 'underlying assumptions'. You must understand all three before mucking around with any culture change programmes.

Where is it going? Culture change has been a disappointment for many organisations. The idea that culture can be frozen in time, then unfrozen, toyed with and frozen again bears little relation to the realities of day-to-day business. Culture develops, shifts and changes all the time.

In Jim Collins' book Good to Great (2001), his 11 great firms didn't change after a single initiative. Lasting, meaningful change took time, imagination, determination and flexibility. Smart companies work constantly on their culture without announcing change programmes every six months.

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