OCTOBER 24, 2020

Transforming Organizational Culture: Challenges and Solutions

Organizational Culture refers to a set of shared assumptions, values, underlying beliefs, and ways in which employees interact that are unique to a given organization. In simpler terms, it is the personality of a given organization. With over 20 years of experience working in Human Resources, I have found that a high performing organization has the following organizational drivers: teamwork, communication, agility, productivity, profitability, and consistency. With those traits, this type of organization has a healthy and thriving culture. When there is a healthy and thriving organizational culture, your employees are motivated to bring the best versions of themselves every day. In turn, you, as the employer, are less likely to have issues with employee morale or attrition.

Though invisible, organizational culture is a powerful force that has a strong influence on the behavior of the employer and their employees. This article will shed light on how to transform organizational culture, even when it might be challenging to change.

Challenges to Transforming Organizational Culture and How to Overcome Them

While transforming organizational culture is a win-win for both the employer and employee, the process does present several challenges. As mentioned earlier, organizational culture is the personality of the organization, and changing it is just like changing an individual’s character. It is not easy, but it can be done if the value in doing so is clearly seen.

1. Resistance to Change Due to Unspoken Norms

In most cases, employees are used to fixed ways of working and interacting within the organization. This is a result of having specific organizational behavior that is understood via unspoken rules or norms, i.e. “This is just the way it is here”. These unspoken rules and norms tend to become noticeable once they are broken. As an HR expert, I can tell you that having unspoken norms or rules within an organization is fairly common, so some may believe that it is acceptable. Although there is nothing particularly wrong with this, these norms could impede innovation, creativity, or block the sharing of vital information. Moreover, unspoken organizational norms could cause both the employer and employees to fail to notice inefficiencies in the workplace due to “sacred cows” or a false sense of harmony. This way of operating inhibits teamwork, stunts communication — and ultimately collaboration, thus hindering the ability of others to beget innovative and breakthrough ideas, while devaluing team members.

Resistance towards the transformation of organizational culture is rooted in fear of change. Inviting all team members into the process creates a space for everyone. Also, over-communicating the steps of the processes so that your employees know what to expect and explaining their role is critical. This way, you are bringing them along in the process.

2. Competing Priorities Due to Lack of time

Most employers have strategies they are trying to achieve. Each strategy comes with its own set of external and internal challenges to manage. They include, but are not limited to; external, i.e., market shifts, competition, and customer insights, as well as internal, i.e., competing priorities, lack of resources, and lack of teamwork. While it is essential to address your organization’s culture to meet the external demands, if the internal dynamics are not managed, the organizational culture will significantly suffer. Most times, Leaders do not prioritize the internal challenges due to limited available time. Choosing external over internal strategies can impede productivity and focus.


The lack of prioritization is due to the Leader’s inability to balance the health of the organization with the work, to achieve the overall business strategies and goals. Share clear expectations of the timeline and deliverables. Leaders play an important role in prioritizing what’s important and urgent, so don’t make your team guess!

3. Lack of Urgency Due to Absence of a Visible Crisis

Organizations often realize the need for change in response to a crisis or a significant problem. I often find that whenever there is no visible crisis, such a change is met with a lack of enthusiasm and urgency, by both the employer and employees. On the contrary, these seemingly calmer times are exactly when both the employer and employees should embrace the opportunity to change, upgrade, improve, or enhance the organizational culture. As long as such a mindset exists, the organization is operating from a reactionary mentality versus a proactive one. This mentality obstructs visioning and creates a lack of innovation.

The lack of urgency in the absence of a crisis is due to an organization not having healthy motivators inherently built into their culture. In this scenario, leaders are lacking the vision to see their way through a particular point in time and on to the future beyond the crisis. Envisioning is a motivating activity that should be something Leaders practice with external partners and the key stakeholders at all levels of the company to create possibilities together.

4. Communication Breakdowns Due to Rigid Hierarchies

Hierarchies are essential in an organization and are typically managed within a structure. As such, they are present in every organization, especially the larger ones. However, the ways they exist could pose a challenge in the process of cultural change, sometimes hindering innovation and the flow of information within the organization. Information or data sometimes may not reach all required levels of the organization, causing managers to be rigid, and subsequently not as motivating or inspiring to their employees. This default posture causes communication to lack transparency, only coming from a space of “need to know.” This type of culture is suppressive and its communication approach limits the sharing of ideas. It further discourages people from sharing their own bright ideas or actively participating in brainstorming, developing, or implementing innovative solutions.

Communication breakdowns due to rigid hierarchies in an organization exist because organizations lack a cultural structure of trust and open lines of communication. To address this, the organization must become transparent and shift their behavioral norms, beliefs, and values to foster the free-flow of information from top-down and bottom-up. Also, it is important to create a space where everyone can participate in the creative process, in particular, utilizing subject matter experts to lead the way.

5. Lack of Commitment to Culture Work

Most organizations that have not experienced a healthy, thriving culture view working on their own as a ‘heavy lift’ or something that is not tied to a project or their profit margin. This lack of commitment to culture is ingrained in how work gets done and also how it is rewarded. These organizations create their strategies and then go back and talk about how to incorporate them into their culture. It is not something that is a part of the planning process when strategies are actually being created, so it ends up living in the organization as an afterthought. Most unhealthy cultures are the byproduct of this “afterthought” approach, which unfortunately establishes the norm for how people in the organization approach culture work in general. Leaders set the tone for prioritizing the importance of a healthy culture and how it is created; and should model what is seen as acceptable organizational standards of behaviors.

The lack of commitment to creating a healthy and thriving culture starts with the Leaders and has a trickle down effect throughout the entire organization. If you want a thriving culture, the Leaders must be willing to make it a priority. Culture is a living organism that if not deliberately and purposefully cultivated, will begin to exist of its own volition, without anyones realizing it. To create a healthy and thriving culture that people want to work in, Leaders must endorse creating it as meaningful work. Then they must make it a part of the strategy, showing their employees how they benefit, and where they fit in. Finally, Leaders must be the gatekeepers of what are acceptable norms, values, beliefs, and behaviors within their culture. They must be prepared to Own It!
When considering how to transform your organizational culture, it is worth soliciting the services of a qualified HR Professional. They will provide you with guidance from start to finish; ensuring you follow the right procedures, maintain a culture that works for your organization, and develop long term solutions to help usher your organization to the next level.

If you have questions regarding this article or its contents, please feel free to contact me. I will be happy to respond to your inquiry.

Knowledge Is Enlightenment!

Tawana