Culture Development

Unraveling the Challenges: Why is Organizational Culture So Difficult to Change?

A strong organizational culture is an essential part of a company’s success and it can work wonders for any sized business. It can truly change the way that a company works, help them establish a healthy and happy atmosphere, and establish, reach, and then maintain goals. 

There are so many upsides to working on a company’s organizational culture so you might be surprised to hear that some businesses have a hard time doing that. The truth is that they are sometimes met with a level of resistance, even if it seems that improving a company’s culture is a win-win. Why? 

Why is Changing Organizational Culture Often Met With Resistance?

So, what is at the core of the resistance that some companies experience when they are attempting to define, refine, or improve their organizational culture? When you look at it, it’s easy to see why some people might be hesitant to embrace the culture that a company needs. 

There is a fear of the unknown that could lead to resistance to a strong, central organizational culture. Employees could fear the uncertainty that comes with change, even if they know it might ultimately result in the business running better and their jobs being easier. This could happen for several reasons. Employees could worry about how the changes will affect their roles, relationships, or job security. 

Even if they are constantly reminded that a culture change could be good for them, people could still be paranoid about that claim and not trust it. Also, certain changes can make employees feel like they’re losing control over their work environment. This loss of perceived control can lead to their sense of resistance.

Beyond that, another fear exists. Employees could be afraid that the proposed cultural changes won’t succeed or that they might adversely affect their work or the organization.

And some people are comfortable with the ways things are, even if the state of things isn’t entirely great. People sometimes end up getting comfortable with existing standards and the status of things, including certain routines.

Now, sometimes the problem isn’t with the employees, but the business leaders who are proposing changes. If they don’t do a good job of explaining any changes and how the alterations will go, they could lead to some serious resistance. If the employees don’t understand or buy into the reasons behind the cultural changes, they might resist them. So as you can imagine, clear communication and involvement in the change process is super important. 

Addressing any resistance from employees to a cultural change requires some hard work from the people in charge. It always involves a proactive communication style that involves employees in the entire process. Leaders also need to provide a lot of clarity on the benefits of change and offer support and resources to help employees adapt to the new cultural norms. It’s crucial to acknowledge and address concerns while demonstrating the value and necessity of the proposed changes.

What are the key challenges faced during a change in organizational culture?

Several challenges can arise during a change in organizational culture. Now, while they can be quite big at times and can often slow down the process of changing a culture, they are not impossible to overcome. It just takes extra work, planning, and a solid strategy.

The biggest problem that gets in the way of changing an organization’s culture is the people in charge. Even if they have the best of intentions, these business leaders can get in their way and screw things up. If business leaders aren’t aligned or committed to cultural change, it can create confusion and hinder progress. People won’t be sure what they are being instructed to do and it’ll stop the whole process before it even gets started. Consistent leadership support is crucial for successful cultural transformation.

Another major challenge when it comes to these sorts of changes is related to patience. If a company doesn’t have patience for the process, it can hinder all the plans. Cultural change takes time and expecting immediate results can lead to frustration. For that reason alone, patience is essential when allowing the new culture to take root and become ingrained in organizational practices.

The messaging has to remain solid and reliable at all times when a company is attempting to change its culture from the ground up. Any inconsistency in the messaging from the top or perhaps some sort of conflicting action will undermine the change effort. If the actions don’t align with the cultural values that have been promoted, most employees will likely become skeptical, lose faith, and stop trying to achieve the goals of the business. Measuring the progress of this proposed cultural change can be complex because it’s frankly hard to define and, therefore, hard to figure out how successful a company has been. 

Before anything else is done, a company should define metrics that accurately capture cultural changes in the company. What do the changes look like? What are some goals that can be measured? How will a company know when it has met its goals?

Addressing these many challenges requires that business leaders craft a comprehensive and thoughtful approach to achieving them. This, of course, includes clear communication, strong leadership, employee involvement, continuous evaluation, as well as always a willingness to adapt strategies based on feedback and evolving needs. Flexibility, as well as adaptability, are also essential when figuring out and getting through the complexities of cultural change within an organization.

People engaged in a meeting, discussing matters in an office setting

What strategies can be used to effectively change organizational culture?

Before a company can achieve the sort of cultural change it seeks, it needs to clearly define the desired culture. What does it look like? How does it appear in practice? How can it be described, both to newcomers and clients as well as customers and competitors?

After that is figured out, a company needs to ensure top leadership is fully committed and actively involved in driving the cultural change. This sort of change always starts at the top, when the leaders in charge reach out and instruct their employees on what they want and how to achieve it. Leaders should embody the desired values and consistently champion the change. They aren’t just speaking about changes, they are showing them, proudly proving that they are doing more than just talking the talk, they are also walking the walk. 

The business leaders in charge will have to engage all employees in the process of changing an entire culture. They can do this by encouraging participation at every level, gladly gathering feedback, and then empowering them to contribute ideas and solutions.

The company then has to integrate the new cultural values and changes into various organizational processes, such as the hiring process, performance management of employees, and decision-making. This will ensure consistency and prove that any changes are long-lasting and not just a brief flash in the pan that is soon forgotten about and ignored.

There will be challenges along the way but there will also be plenty of successes and they will need to be celebrated so that people feel good about their progress and encouraged to keep trying. A business leader needs to acknowledge all milestones as well as all achievements in the cultural change process. This will reinforce the positive impact of the changes and promise that more will come.

Changing organizational culture is a gradual and ongoing process that requires patience, persistence, and a multifaceted approach involving all levels of the organization. A strong and smart business leader will understand the challenges that are coming and they will strategize about how to prevent them or overcome them. 

Individuals raising their hands in a gesture of success or achievement

How can we understand the impact of changing our organization’s culture?

These sorts of changes will almost always lead to big cultural changes within an organization. However, it’s not always easy to understand the impact. How does a company know when the changes they have committed to have helped? How do they know when they have reached them? 

Since culture is hard to quantify, it’s sometimes hard to see the progress or the impact of these changes. But the good news is that there are several ways to understand the impact of any cultural changes within an organization, thankfully. Before anything else, the company needs to establish clear, easy-to-understand metrics as well as specific goals that align with the desired cultural changes. These need to be things that can be noted easily without any sort of confusion or ambiguity. These standards and metrics might relate to things like employee engagement scores, turnover rates, productivity metrics, customer satisfaction, and more. 

A company can better understand the impact of these changes by implementing regular and honest feedback. This can be achieved through things such as surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one interviews. They need to include everyone in the business and seek to gather insights from employees at different levels, asking them what they think of the cultural change process. The business leaders in charge will then have to analyze this feedback to understand perceptions and challenges. It might not always be easy to receive this feedback but it’s always very important, even if it hurts.

Understanding the impact of changing organizational culture requires an all-around, solid, deep approach that will combine multiple methods, an ongoing evaluation of the progress, as well as a commitment to adapt and refine strategies based on insights gathered throughout the process.

Do you or your company wish to effectively manage your organizational culture change? Learn more about our culture management tools here.

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