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The top seven pitfalls in culture change: and how to avoid them. 

By Sonia Tallarida


It’s no secret that culture change is hard stuff, and naturally so. After all, it’s not easy to literally change the way an entire organisation thinks, feels and breathes.

Even if you throw everything you’ve got at getting culture change right, it can all too easily come un-done when you stumble across one of any of the most common pitfalls of culture change.

The following seven pitfalls are the most common de-railers of culture change we come across when meeting with new clients needing urgent help with their culture transformation.  And of course we’ve also included the success strategies you’ll need to employ to avoid them!

1) Stopping before the finish line

Early traction often reaps tangible results, so there becomes a real temptation to say, “Hurrah, we’re done!”.  Future proofing your culture means taking people out to a new “edge”, a significant stretch from their current state.  If the presenting problems remain, you know that the culture work was halted prematurely.

Instead: Define and commit to your success pathways and criteria upfront and be clear about where the finish line is. 

2) Planning before achieving a shift in perspective

Often the temptation to act quickly and to be seen in action can result in a short-term injection of high energy for little return.  Nothing can really change within the culture because the people’s understanding of the problem or the data has not changed.

Instead: Invest in your planning – start with mindsets and ‘HOW’ we observe first.  Learn how to read the patterns and underlying currents that are shaping the outcome you are getting right now. 

3) Mismatched methodology

Not all culture change is the same – therefore, the approach taken to achieve a transformational change in culture is vastly different to that you would employ to achieve a slight change to the core, or to implement a new system, for example. When it comes to culture change, ensure your methodology is fit for purpose –and that you have clearly defined the approach.

Instead: Ensure you have a clear understanding of the cultures’ symptoms to achieve an accurate diagnosis and then prescribe most appropriate methodology. Stop, look and listen carefully before choosing your path.

4) Addressing the current climate – not the change

It’s easy to over emphasise  achieving a subjective diagnosis, and identifying the “solutions” that give precedence to emotional landscape, the team-scape, the supporting structures or the behaviours.

Culture work is not just about behaviours. There is a huge amount of other work that sits underneath people’s choices. These shaping factors of culture need equal attention.  Culture work is about the “AND”.

Instead:  Go deep, to the root cause of the culture. Accept that in order to soar, sometimes your climate may need to dip first. 

5) The leaders aren’t really that into it

Your CEO and Executive Team have got to be on board. That means they need to be the kind of leaders who are courageous enough to make the tough choices.  And who value the place for “culture” as a key strategic piece of the organisation’s work, and are willing to really contribute their own work to achieving change.

Instead:  Ensure you have a clear engagement strategy at the outset to ensure leaders are clear about their role, accountabilities and aligned on how to describe it. 

6) Outsourcing everything

Culture change works best when it is owned internally and supported by subject experts.  Setting up the internal roles, supporting structures and sponsorship is crucial to ensure the work stays with the people who are most invested in the outcome – your team.

Instead:  Chose a consultant that will walk alongside you, increasing your internal capability and ownership

7) Launching too quickly

There can be a burning desire to quickly “get started” and land some quick wins, however this can actually stall progress.  Taking the time to review the real need, roles and potential pitfalls can save much time, money and energy.

Instead: Ensure the “WHY” of each action is clearly understood, demonstrated and linked to your action plan.

We’ve helped hundreds of organisations across the globe to successfully achieve real culture change that sticks. We’d be happy to talk to you about your individual needs and provide you with some ideas on how you can transform your culture and your business’ potential.

Call us on 1300 856 920 Or email us at hello@thecoherencegroup.com

The journey starts today.

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