Communication a Key to Cultural Change

Communication a Key to Cultural Change

Cultural Change

Leaders frequently say they need to transform their organization’s culture, but they wonder how they make that happen. Although there is no magic bullet, there are some things you can do to make the change process more positive and effective.

  1. Over-communicate why the status quo is no longer tenable. It helps if you have a burning platform because the challenge is to gain enough momentum to overcome the inevitable resistance. The more clearly you can paint a picture of why the change is required, the easier it will be to motivate people to embrace the change. If there is no burning platform, and you cannot create one, your challenge will be greater unless you can paint a clear picture of the benefits of the change (see below).
  2. Over-communicate the benefits of the change for the organization and the individual. If you want people to change, you need to help them understand what’s in it for them. That is, how will the change benefit them specifically? Changing the organization’s culture so it can be more profitable usually doesn’t translate for most folks. They need a direct line of sight between the increased profitability and each person’s job (i.e., greater job security, better working environment, more meaningful work, career advancement etc.) If you need a person’s involvement and there is no obvious benefit, then you will need to create some short term benefits to engage them (i.e., contests, special recognitions, more focused goals & rewards).
  3. Clearly communicate what you are moving from and what you are moving to. Dialogue around simple “from/to charts” (as illustrated below) can both help clarify the direction and goals of the change and serve as a vehicle for measure progress throughout the change process.
From: To:  
Product-Focused Customer-Focused
Reactive Proactive
Ineffeicient Efficient
Industry Follower Industry Leader
etc. etc.


  1. Implement a formal process that allows people to mourn the past but focus on the future. In my experience, systematically creating an opportunity for people to identify– but not dwell on– what they will miss (and not miss) helps people let go and move on. Additionally, being able to share—but not dwell on—what they are worried about and what might be possible for them, propels them to the future. You don’t have to agree with or debate what they say. Just listening and then openly acknowledging their willingness will go a long way for increasing the success of your cultural change.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Dooley.

Sallie Sherman is the CEO of S4 Consulting. She is an expert in helping organizational leaders transform the way they approach critical B2B relationships and implement the complex changes needed to manage those relationships as strategic assets. Sallie has written two books.