Cultural change is notoriously difficult to achieve, especially in non-profit organisations with strong value-based cultures and passionate staff and managers. However, improving the culture of an organisation can be a powerful tool to improve efficiency, drive strategic ambition, and increase social impact. We have outlined 6 key principles that all organisational leaders should bear in mind when attempting to reshape the culture of their organisations.

Organisational culture is often defined as the vision, values, norms, and behaviours within an organisation. In most places, the culture has evolved organically over the years and is heavily influenced by the leaders who have shaped the organisation at critical moments.

Most organisations will see cultural change as difficult – the legacy problems that continue to shape culture, the performance issues that a poor culture can cause, or even the barriers that prevent changes to the culture. There will always be some resistance to change, and often with good reason; change can be expensive and risky.

The key to successful culture change is ensuring that benefits, both real and perceived, will outweigh the sacrifices – the principles below will help make it happen.

    1. Aligning culture change to key strategic objectives. Changing organisational culture shouldn’t be done just for the sake of it. When something isn’t working well, such as poor financial performance, failed initiatives, or low levels of staff satisfaction, there is a real case for change that can be shared and evidenced with the rest of the organisation. Leaders can then ‘sell’ the changes to their staff, and also have a lens for prioritising potential changes by matching them to strategic objectives. Mapping out strategic and operational objectives and then identifying the cultural change that will support successful deliver will help identify overlaps and synergies across different areas of culture.


    1. Driving change from the top. The whole organisation looks to the CEO and management team for leadership. These organisational leader need to demonstrate self-confidence, conviction, and eloquence when communicating change as an organisational priority. CEOs and managers should be visible in any change process, interacting with staff, sending personalised messages, and visibly demonstrating new values and behaviours.


    1. Providing clear communication about changes. Clear communication of the process for managing change, from inception to implementation, is key to ensuring buy-in and clarity of responsibilities across the organisation. Many successful change programmes develop a ‘story’ to underpin the change initiative, replacing old cultural devices with a new one, to bring it alive for stakeholders and achieve buy-in.


    1. Engaging with staff and managers at all levels. Cultural change happens person-by-person and team-by-team. Allowing staff to engage with the process creates a more dynamic organisational culture, where staff feel empowered to provide input, hear feedback, and own the change process within their own area of responsibility. For example, creating employee focus groups and enabling staff to reflect on how changes to the organisational will impact their own individual jobs allows staff to make change more real.


    1. Building skills and capabilities of staff. Successful cultural change depends on behavioural change. It is important that staff clearly understand their role and what is expected of them within the new ways of working. They need to know how their behaviour must change, and what needs to be done to achieve it. Taking stock of current capabilities within staff and comparing this against ideal capabilities is a good way of understanding gaps, and will be useful when designing the objectives of training programmes.


  1. Aligning rewards and recognising success. Aligning the rewards and recognition structure with the desired culture means that staff will be incentivised to carry out changes in their own work. Not only will this encourage the behaviours vital for the new ways of working, but it will also build excitement and help make change visible throughout the organisation.

Whilst changing organisational culture is tough, it can be done with strong leadership, planning, proper execution and commitment.