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Corporate culture: what is it and how do you change it?

corporate culture

Developing the right culture for your company can mean the difference between success or failure

Most of us want an organisational culture that “leaves employees engaged, loyal, empowered to innovate and quick to collaborate,” says Adam Gale, writing for Management Today. The problem is, culture is difficult to define and even harder to change. So, if all we know is that our employees don’t appear to fit the bill, what can we realistically do to address that?

Where do you want to be, and where are you now?

You can only work with what you’ve got, so the first question you need to ask is, what do you actually have? Too many CEOs focus entirely on where they want to be at the end of the transformation process, and ignore where they are at the beginning.

Chances are that what you want is a culture in which everybody in your company is “all pushing together towards a clearly defined common purpose”. Which sounds great. However, if you’re going to figure out how to get there, you need to have a clear warts-and-all vision of where you are starting out from.

Once you know what your current culture looks like, you can start to act in ways that will bring about positive change. Food entrepreneur Charlie Bigham suggests that having identified the existing culture and assessed what’s good and bad about it, you “build on the bits you like, and do your damnedest… to get [the bits you don’t like] out”.

Engage your whole workforce in the process

“I honestly don’t think you can do it [cultural change] from the top down,” says Talita Ferreira, CFO of BMW Group UK. But that doesn’t mean that management doesn’t need to take a role in setting the agenda or goals. The change has to take place “everywhere all at the same time”, says Ferreira.

The challenge is to take your people with you. This won’t come about by “buying half a dozen fluorescent pink bean bags and sending a memo insisting every employee calls you ‘dude’”. How you go about it will vary from firm to firm and the following two case studies show different successful approaches.


Ferreira oversaw a major cultural change programme as it brought its three non-production companies in the UK onto one site.

Aim: create a ‘modern’ innovative working culture that would be agile enough to deal with the rapid pace of change in the motor industry.

Core values: authenticity, inspiration and collaboration.

Approach taken:

  • Held stakeholder interviews to gauge what was important to people.
  • Turned the results of those meetings into three values – authenticity, inspiration and collaboration.
  • Using those values as a base, devised more specific shifts, such as ‘hierarchy to networking’ and ‘complexity to simplicity’.
  • Held peer to peer discussions for managers to share experiences.
  • Held company wide summits, where those who ‘got it’ were publicly recognised.
  • Leaders acted as role models for the new culture, and practiced what they preached.


Salesforce is an enterprise software company that has integrated dozens of acquisitions into the firm over the past few years. They take corporate culture very seriously.

Aim: Founder Marc Benioff wanted to see what would happen if they applied the Hawaiian culture of ‘Ohana’, in which family members are each responsible for the other, into our workplaces.

Core values: transformation, aspiration, dynamism and fun.

Approach taken:

  • Took fun seriously: it’s ‘world tour’ in London, was awash with live swing bands, games and role-playing robots.
  • Put a strong emphasis on giving back. As Andy Lawson, the UK managing director at Salesforce, says, it’s about creating “a real community that extends past the brand and the marketing language”.
  • Appointed an executive sponsor to new recruits, to offer support and help with orientation.
  • Created opportunities for staff to get to know each other outside of their office role through special training and volunteering opportunities.
  • Used the environment to support the desired culture. “Open-floor plans, comfortable lounge areas, dedicated “scrum” or brainstorming rooms… help the business flourish,” says Lawson. The most important space, he says, is the kitchen – just as it is at parties.

Whatever approach you take, it will be important not to rush. “Anyone who thinks a culture is something you can pick up off the shelf… is completely ill-informed,” says Bigham. “It’s a slow process and you’ll have to put lots of time into it.” But it’s worth it.

Source Article: Six Ways To Transform Your Corporate Culture
Author(s): Adam Gale
Publisher: Management Today