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Why do efforts to change culture so often fail?

Culture is now firmly on the agenda at board level and few organisations underestimate its importance in powering a business’ performance. But despite this apparent focus, many companies still fall short in their attempts to drive sustainable change.

The reasons why efforts to transform organisational culture falter are varied, but here’s our take on what’s often to blame.


Progress isn’t measured or shared.

Culture change takes time. In addition to determined focus, clear measurable goals linked to business performance are needed to drive systemic change. Many organisations attempt a quick fix approach, and often due to a lack of experience, resource, and time, don’t define what success looks like or measure or report progress effectively leading to a lack of momentum and accountability. We know that culture can feel intangible to some, and because of its complexity it should be evaluated in multiple ways. An annual engagement survey won’t cut it if the ambition is meaningful, long-lasting change.  


The context for change isn’t clear.

So often companies identify the behaviours they want to embed, but don’t invest enough time convincingly making the case for why change is necessary or articulating their aspirational culture clearly.

Culture transformation programmes frequently lack a clear narrative that presents the case for change in a compelling way while connecting directly to an organisation’s strategy, purpose, and vision. The absence of an authentic story leads to inconsistency across an organisation when change is implemented, breeding confusion, and hampering progress.


The leadership team aren’t aligned.

Leadership teams often underestimate how hard it is to evolve an established culture. It takes considerable effort and resource, particularly in large organisations that are structurally complex with dispersed employees.

For any change to succeed, leaders must consistently role model the behaviours that underpin the desired culture and purposefully create an environment where those behaviours can thrive. They have to be genuinely aligned behind the reasons for change and believe that the aspired culture will drive the business forward. They also need to make a firm commitment to any operational changes required to support the transformation.


People try to take short cuts.

Resistance to change can be fierce. It takes time to inspire people to shift their behaviour. And in a world where speed is prized, few businesses are prepared to go on a true test and learn journey, instead preferring to take short cuts to meet the needs of a regulator or the board rather than prioritising the things that will drive real, systemic change.

Many people leave culture change to a single team, don’t adequately resource the work, or take a traditional comms campaign approach to introducing new behaviours. True culture change requires a holistic contribution across the organisation with fully dispersed ownership and a well-considered, customised approach for each audience.

If you’ve come across these stumbling blocks, and want to chat about how you can inspire sustainable culture change in your business, get in touch at hello@unitedcultureco.com