8 tips to change company culture

Within every organization exists a set of ethics, values, and beliefs that shape the actions of leadership and employees alike. The morale of a company depends heavily on what that company’s culture looks like. If morale dips, ethical issues arise, or questions emerge, implementing these tips to change company culture could be necessary. 

Workplace research conducted by Deloitte found that “94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success.” But, if a company’s culture is lacking in substance and morale, changes must be made in order to harness company-wide success.

Not all changes to company culture come about because the current climate of a workplace is necessarily negative or “bad.” Sometimes these shifts within a company are just structural or organizational. One example would be a shift from a culture that values independent work to a more collaborative environment that seeks equal input from all, or even just a culture that puts more stock in open communication and dialogue than before. 

“Structural changes within the company are necessary to provide a safe open environment where people can be themselves and contribute positively to the business,” Anna Schuliger, Co-Founder of Going Places, tells Ladders. “When people feel safe, respected & taken seriously, they thrive.” 

Take a look at these eight tips to change company culture to see how you can meaningfully impact the evolution of your workplace. 

1. Have a clear vision, inspired by successful leaders

Although company culture is shaped by all members within a particular workplace, true change within an organization has a better chance of sticking if company leadership has a clear vision and inspiration. 

Throughout her work training C-suite executives at Fortune 500 companies like NASA and Volkswagen in cognitive processes to help build strong teams, Akhila Satish, CEO of Meseekna has gleaned valuable insight into the ethos of company culture as it relates to leadership. “First, as a leader you need to clearly determine how you want your company culture to manifest,” Satish tells Ladders.  

She suggests that leaders find inspiration by “the biographies, watching presentations, and following the social media platforms of other notable leaders whom you respect,” and then implementing those strategies.

“Constantly filling your mind with this cultural inspiration will help you figure out the clearest pathway to creating your ideal company culture,” Satish explains. “Keep in mind that company culture is really the shared decision-making ethos of an organization. Vibrant, healthy cultures help individuals make thoughtful strategic decisions. Unhealthy cultures are a breeding ground for poor, risky decisions.”

2. Intentional hiring can heavily impact company culture

“Be intentional about who you hire at entry-level,” Schuliger tells Ladders. “The hiring process today relies predominantly on internal referrals, so the company’s inner circle becomes their candidate pool.”

To do this, Schuliger recommends looking outside of your immediate network for talent. This can serve as the first step toward meaningful company culture change by starting off each new hire on the right foot instead of leaning on old employees who may have attributed to the unwanted attributes of poor company culture.

“Conversely, when employees are asked by their managers: ‘Do you know anyone who would be a great fit for this role?’ employees need to seek outside of their inner circle,” Schuliger says. “Proactively research professionals who have different backgrounds and have taken different paths to get to where they are. Who has worked at places that create positive change, influence markets, or even work on solutions that could help you and your company?”

By looking outside both the employers’ and the employees’ inner network for new hires, meaningful change can happen. “There is an endless supply of talent, hard work, and inspirational individuals — as employees, we are all interconnected through our work in society and the more inclusive we can be at every level, the better & stronger our business and culture will be.”

3. Model change at the top

Satish says that company leadership should follow the age-old advice of “practicing what you preach” in order to change company culture. 

“This may sound cliché, but it’s especially important during this time of uncertainty and remote work that you show your employees how they need to act, decide, and interact,” Satish explains. “For example, if you want all your employees to be online and working by 9 a.m., then you must show up and do the same. If you want to make the company culture more collaborative, start by going to your employers for their thoughts and contributions on your own projects. Keep in mind that company culture starts at the top, so make expectations clear through your own modeled behavior.”

4. Communicate clearly and consistently

Open communication between superiors and subordinates is a key element of rich company culture. This means that leadership must implement a two-way street of sorts to engage with all team members. “Provide employees with real opportunities for real dialogue,” Schuliger says. “Putting out a statement is not enough.” 

This also means that if a company leadership wishes to implement certain company culture changes, they must clearly communicate these changes to everyone. “Often, it is helpful to walk employees through the incentive and rationale behind how decisions are made to help them understand the shared company culture and decision-making ethos,” Satish says. 

5. Accept that change takes effort

To fully embrace the changing of company culture, effort on the part of company leadership must take place. “Of course, company culture can evolve naturally as the company expands and grows. That being said, there are some aspects of a company culture that are deeply ingrained and unlikely to change unless the foundation (i.e. the leadership) or your company inherently changes,” Satish says.

While the effort to keep up with evolving workplace practices like the types of benefits offered, flexibility in hours worked, and the like is necessary, a major part of the effort from leadership to impact change must start with a perspective shift that includes hiring the right people. 

“These external aspects certainly help shape company culture, but we feel the most important part of the answer depends on the company’s effort in their hiring practices,” Schuliger explains. “There are some small to medium size companies that are decades old and relatively stuck in their perspectives if they have not made an active effort to hire diverse new talent.” 

Schuliger emphasizes that the “Ability to notice, accept, and implement new change is the most important responsibility for a healthy culture.”

6. Understand that change takes time

When it comes to impactful change in company culture, know that the most lasting change will take time and persistence. “These changes can always happen, but don’t expect them overnight,” Satish tells Ladders. “Status quo begets status quo. To transform company culture, start with implementing training that can help change the way in which employees make decisions.”

Part of that time investment will include the time it takes to seek new hires, interview, train, and mentor them from an entry-level. Schuliger recommends hiring from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and ensuring that people at all levels of an organization have a voice by bridging the gap between management and entry-level employees

“This can happen through established mentorship programs or a dedicated managerial structure to allow people to have a voice and express how they feel easily and safely without fear of any repercussions,” she says. “This takes real and consistent effort to achieve — a statement says nothing without persistent action.”

7. Remember that there is power in numbers

Although company leadership definitely has the upper hand when it comes to modeling cultural shifts within an organization, employees do play a crucial role in the ability to influence change. 

“Employees can certainly influence a company’s culture because they reinforce a company’s patterns,” Satish explains. “Employees have strength in numbers, which results in a widespread of company culture across all realms of the business.”

“It’s critical to remember, however, culture always comes from the top. This means without the support or guidance of company leaders, it may be a bit difficult to attempt to change company culture as an employee,” Satish says. “This does change if an employee oversees direct reports and has the ability to change the culture of their team within the larger organization.”

8. Diversity and inclusivity are key

“Culture is not having parties, throwing bean bags on the floor, or having an open concept floor plan,” Schuliger says. “A company has to take a stance on wanting to change, become more inclusive, and have an inclusive culture. That’s the core.”

Paying attention to where your new hires are coming from, what their backgrounds are, and what they can bring to the table in terms of creating a more inclusive culture can have a major impact on company culture. “Great culture is bridging the networking gap and getting people inside the door — connecting people who are starting their career with those who are set in their career. That’s a great culture,” Schuliger says.

When it comes to decision-making for new hires, having a plan for how to approach inclusivity and diversity is crucial. “Diversity and inclusion are essential in creating a positive and forward-thinking company culture,” Satish explains. “You cannot change company culture if you don’t make it a point to hire new people with fresh ideas and perspectives to shake up the status quo — particularly at the higher levels. Without diversity of thought, perspectives, and background, you risk falling prey to blind spots of decision-making that can hurt an organization’s future prospects.”