Change Lab Consulting
Change Lab Consulting


The inextricable link between culture and values

Ok, so maybe the above Dilbert cartoon is a tad cynical, but chances are you recognised the sentiment. Perhaps you have been subject to a programme of culture change in your organisation, or read the news with skepticism when the latest financial institution declared they would address irresponsible and risky behaviour by changing their corporate culture.


Maybe you are someone that believes you cannot change culture; because it is so deeply rooted in an organisation’s DNA. For me, the beauty of organisational culture is in it’s depth and breadth; it manifests in how and what people say at work, what they wear, the dynamics of their work relationships, how the work environment feels, as well as how the organisation responds to change. Culture is simply, the way things are done around here.


So if an organisation’s leaders recognise that in order to achieve their new vision they need to change the organisational culture, where should they start, given that culture is often so intangible? In an effort to focus on what can be seen and measured, it is common to see changes to the physical work environment being made- cue the pool tables, open-plan layout, and communications about new ways of working displayed in the freshly painted communal kitchen areas designed to encourage collaboration. Such changes do play an important role as enablers of change; indeed if you want to encourage collaboration, providing the means to do so helps- but in order to achieve lasting change, we need to go deeper.


We need to look at the organisation’s values, as they define what is acceptable and unacceptable. Essentially, values underpin culture. For example, an organisation expresses integrity as a value, and negative consequences can be witnessed when someone behaves questionably. Conversely, if a CEO announces that changes are being made to increase collaboration because teamwork is a core value, but subsequently only recognises and rewards individuals, we can see a disconnect.


This example demonstrates how important leader behaviour is in changing the culture. If everything changes but the people in charge, why would employees be motivated to embrace new ways of working, especially if they are still being incentivised for their old ways?


For every leader faced with the task of changing culture, important questions must be asked about the organisation’s values:

  • What do I see around me that tells me what the values really are?
  • Are these values incompatible with what we are trying to achieve with this change?
  • What do I and my fellow leaders need to personally change to move towards our target culture?

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