Your Desired Organizational Culture Must Start at the Top

culture transformation


Just because you can’t see your organization’s culture doesn’t mean it is not having an impact on your success. The norms, mindsets, behaviours, and ways of doing things within your organization directly impact your day-to-day and strategic activities. According to Deloitte, 82% of respondents view culture as a potential competitive advantage. As a leader, culture transformation is a vital topic to understand.


Culture can make the difference between achieving your desired outcomes and falling short. It dictates how employees act and how things get done. And, it manifests in the way decisions are made and how conflicts are handled.


Here’s some truth: Culture starts at the top. As the CEO and executive team, the mindsets and behaviours you demonstrate each day strongly influence the company culture. You serve as an example for everyone else in the organization.


Whether you realize it or not, employees model their behaviours off of you. That is why one of the single most important components of a successful, strong culture is awareness and commitment from the executive and leadership team.


The Link Between Culture and Leadership 

The executive team truly sets the tone for company culture. According to a study from Glassdoor Economic Research, highly rated CEOs are statistically linked to companies with great cultures. Employee satisfaction, motivation, and performance are all tied back to culture, and the view employees have of senior leadership definitively impacts the culture of the organization. It is so important that a leadership development program


One of the main reasons for this is that leaders are visible. The C-suite and executives within an organization are constantly being watched. This means they are in a powerful position to bring the weather and demonstrate the desired culture for the rest of the organization.


Being A Role Model Of The Desired Culture

With this in mind, you, as the CEO and executive team, need to truly understand the impact you have on the organization and the way others act. Awareness can be obtained and fast-tracked through targeted initiatives such as a culture assessment, values inventory, transformation initiative or through collective and individual executive coaching.


Once you recognize how your actions influence the organization’s culture, you can start to intentionally and consciously model the desired mindsets and behaviours of your desired culture to others.


You can set the tone and serve as a role model up, down, and across the organization. As your behaviour starts to influence senior leadership, their actions will influence the people around them as well, until, eventually, the new culture becomes the norm.


With this self-awareness also comes the ability to notice and identify mindsets and behaviours that may have been acceptable in the past, but are no longer aligned with the desired culture. The ability to be open, honest, and reflective of your own behaviours, and the behaviours of your team, helps to enforce the new culture in a positive and productive way.


This is not to say that it is going to be easy. As we’ve discussed before, any change to culture is very difficult to implement, and more than 70% of all organizational change initiatives fail mostly due to the lack of ability to measure and manage culture.


But as a leader, recognizing the impact you have and making a conscious effort to demonstrate the desired culture each and every day can significantly increase the chances of success. There are tools and resources available that can help make the intangible tangible, ensuring your culture initiative falls in the successful 30%.


When Does Culture Change Become a Necessity?

Culture is intrinsically linked to the organization’s strategy, direction, and desired outcomes. When there is a business imperative, an aspirational goal or vision, that requires a catalytic shift in the way things are done, it’s important to make sure the culture, mindsets, and behaviours of the organization are aligned with this new direction. Some examples of when a culture change may be required are:

  • A new strategic plan or direction
  • Following a merger or acquisition
  • As a result of rebranding
  • To shift from dysfunctional to high-performing teams
  • To restore or build trust and engagement
  • To break down silos and improve interpersonal and team dynamics


My Challenge to You – Engage In A Meaningful Culture Transformation Initiative

If you identify that a change in culture is required due to a new business imperative, make sure you engage in an intentional and meaningful transformation initiative.


Start by understanding the prevailing culture in your organization (found at every level, in every department), and then look towards the desired culture that will ensure your organization is better able to achieve its strategic imperative.


  1. Make the intangible tangible: Start by measuring your culture in a way that supports the development of a successful transformation plan.
  2. Understand the context: Recognize the environmental and individual factors that are driving current behaviours, and identify how these behaviours are impacting the culture.
  3. Equip leaders to serve as role models: Changing behaviours is not easy. Equip your leaders with the tools and development opportunities they need to serve as models of the new culture, and to perform when faced with the difficult business initiatives that are driving the culture change.
  4. Provide a roadmap: Develop a clear vision for creating the desired culture, including why it is necessary and how employees can adopt it.


Jennifer Collins is CEO and Managing Director of Hazell and Collins Associates (HCA). Learn more about our leadership strategy services.


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