Why you shouldn’t waste your time changing culture

Why is it bad to work on culture?

Because, while you are wasting time on the organisation’s culture you are missing opportunities to impact time, quality, safety, innovation and cost. That simple. Let me explain.

Changing culture can leave you walking circles in the desert

“We just don’t have the culture for this type of change…”

Such comment is what I typically hear when I’m working on a change project with an organisation and things are slowing down, drifting or failing.

Culture, this big, nebulous thing that organisations struggle to get their arms around. It becomes a catchall reason for failure.

“It’s not our fault, people just aren’t accountable or responsible. It’s the culture around here and we won’t succeed until we change the culture.”

Culture becomes the focus for the project and, in the blink of an eye, the years have passed, and the culture still has not changed.

What about if I told you that the problem is not the culture. In fact, culture is not an issue at all. The problem is in the way people view the reason for project slowdown, drift or failure, which often means distancing themselves from failure by attaching failure to something bigger than them. What’s the biggest thing of all? Culture!

Instead of lamenting the shortcomings of the organisation’s culture, why not take the opportunity to deconstruct the problem in a different way? Why/ Because when the operationalisation of a change project is drifting, the reasons can often be brought back to missed opportunities to tweak three key areas: behaviours, processes, and structures.


Premier Health 2016.001
Don’t focus on culture. Focus on alignment of behaviours, process and structure.


If you focus on changing organisation behaviours, structures and processes to align with the organisation’s mission, vision, goals, values, and standards, you will get the culture you want. Work on culture and you can spend years in the desert walking around in circles.

The challenge then, instead of talking problems with culture, is to simply take the opportunity to explore the reasons for your problems by examining changes that could be made to improve behaviours, structure and processes.

Of course, you could just keep talking culture. If you do, ask yourself, what is the impact on time, quality, safety, innovation, and cost while you talk, and talk, and talk?

11 thoughts on “Why you shouldn’t waste your time changing culture

  1. This is a very interesting and thought provoking post. I am currently working to support a “culture change” with regard to the engagement with learning and development within busy support offices. Problem is that I was struggling to get to grips with how I could help support a culture change. This post has made me question how to approach the challenge and given me a tool to consider my options and allow me to make more robust and scalable suggestions for action to address my concerns and the challenge I am trying to resolve.

    1. Hi Ian, glad you found it useful.

      I’ve just delivered this as part of a healthcare L&D analysis and change project in the US, where people have been struggling to get their arms around the concept of culture. This framework really helps to drive high impact actions, which leadership really appreciate – especially if you can link analysis/actions to impact on quality/safety/quality/time/cost.

    2. I worked on a project many years ago where part of the problem was to define what was meant by a ‘cultural object’ in order to meet the requirements. You wont be surprised that we were unable to get the stakeholders to agree on what was meant by a cultural object; it depended entirely on their perspective. I guess this is saying the same thing – cultural is rather ephemeral and will change if you change the behaviors, structures and processes from which we will get a change in culture.

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