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Three culture-shift pitfalls to avoid

Tom Lovelace

Every organisation has its core culture, but it’s no easy thing to alter or even define, according to a recent article for Harvard Business Review.

Organisations put a lot of investment into getting values, behaviours and norms right – and make this a high priority in talent management terms. But executives make the same mistakes over and over again in terms of collaborative culture, leading to poor results. 

A report by Gartner – based on a survey of 7,500 employees and interviews with 100 human resources leaders at global level – highlights the most common errors in culture improvement, as well as the most effective tactics.


Here are the top three mistakes that scupper successful shifts in culture and what to do about them:

1) Oversimplification. A culture cannot be labelled by a single buzzword or cliched collection of adjectives – such as ‘collaborative', ‘innovative’ or transparent’. None of these stamps brings advantage in terms of revenue generation, according to the Gartner report. 

“Often the chosen buzzword is at odds with how the company actually operates. That causes what Bryan Kurey, Gartner’s managing vice president for HR research, calls a say/do gap: employees see leaders’ cultural aspirations as hypocritical.”

For example, there’s a clear conflict if you label your culture ‘innovative’ and only 20% of your investment and workforce is looking at new products or services.

Acknowledging both sides of the picture is essential. A more honest and embracing culture statement could read: “We support a culture of innovation while continuing to seek growth and profits from legacy businesses.”

2) Over-reliance on data. Gathering information is important but data’s usefulness depends on how it is collected and interpreted. 

Employee surveys are a common way of finding out what people think about your organisation’s culture. But all too often they offer only tick boxes, so there is limited opportunity for significant feedback. 

Turnover rates are also used as a common measure of employee satisfaction, but can be misleading; still being there doesn’t mean people are engaged with the company culture.

Gartner’s report suggests leaders foster a spirit that encourages employees to share opinions and voice their concerns at any time to increase their cultural connection and improve your working data.

3) Lack of policy back-up. Altering your culture will only work if you support it with corresponding operational policies.

For example, if a company that claims to be focused on customers cuts back on the employee expenses that allow sales representatives to meet potential buyers in person, that creates a conflict. 

Kurey says: “This is the area where leaders are least consistent – putting the operating model behind the culture.”

It’s therefore important to pay close attention to lining up your cultural priorities with the nuts and bolts of production, finance and procedures.


As a leader it’s no good trying to dictate a culture from the top. Change needs to be embraced and lived at grassroots level. Make sure you walk your talk by involving and inspiring your employees in the process, listening to their opinions and putting policies in place that enable them to walk your talk.

Source Article: The Wrong Ways To Strengthen Culture
Author(s): Bryan Kurey