Why culture change programs are very hard to accomplish

Why culture change programs are very hard to accomplish

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Culture change projects often take long to be in full effect and to be considered successful. They can be as a result of external factors or internal. These projects change how an event or operation is carried out in an organization. Some of these operations can be as a result of new/improved technologies or even alternative ways of doing business. For this to be successful, they need people or employees who are open to them.

Culture change is often difficult to implement. A survey carried out by McKinsey found that only one out of three organizational change projects succeed. And there are various factors as to why there is such low success rate, some of which will be touched on in the article.

Reasons why culture change projects fail

Organizations usually have a way that they conduct business, this is inclusive of the type of employees they employee to their processes and values; all these are part of what make the culture. An organization’s business model and culture is something that is discussed by employees, potential employees, job-seekers etc. It is something developed over time and something that is known. That said however, not all organization cultures are good.

Re-engineering a culture takes time and effort and may prove difficult because, almost everything in an organization is dependent on the other. Redefining processes for example without taking into consideration the organizations values, opinions of employees and company’s belief will most likely lead to it failing. According to D.H. Kim in his journal article The Link Between Individual and Organizational Learning, internal images of how a company operates have a great impact on how a company is viewed. With that, it is difficult to change a company culture without involving people.


1.     Lack of commitment from leaders

Cultural change projects usually take some time for them to be considered successful. Employees in an organization need to feel that the management and the organization’s leaders’ are serious and committed to the culture change for them to take cue. 

Researchers Aaron Kay (Duke’s Fuqua School of Business) and Devon Proudfoot (Cornell University) argue that employees are more welcoming to change when it is presented as non-negotiable and long-lasting as opposed to when it is presented as response to a crisis.

When culture change is presented by an organization’s management and is actually followed by them, this effect trickles down to the rest of the organization. However, there are cases where the leadership is not fully trained on the culture change. This is often a recipe for disaster. To remedy this, organizations are advised to focus both on change leadership and leadership development. This will enable the leaders of the culture change have the ability to steer their ship in the right direction.

2.     Lack of clear goals of culture change

For people to embrace and to appreciate why culture change is being presented to them, they need to understand how they benefit from it. Otherwise they may be resistant to it. Often times leaders’ present culture change without showing how it translates to measurable goals for the employees and organization.

3.     Lack of distinction and flexibility

As Gandhi said, be the change you want to see. This is a phrase that most employers should employ. If management tries to force a cultural change that employees do not understand, they will resist it. If the same managers do not follow that said cultural change, then to, their employees will not. For it to be successful, managers need to lead by example.

A successful culture often follows 3 criteria: valued, true and different. Creating a culture that is different yet both valued and authentic is difficult, but is what sets a company apart from its competitors.

For culture change to be successful, it requires commitment both from management and staff. It also requires that employee motivations are considered and lastly, that it aligns itself with the company strategy. According to McKinsey’s research, when employees feel that they are part of the change, it increases chances of success by up to five times.


Case Studies

Case 1: New Coke

At the moment, Coca Cola is an international brand with a large consumer base. But even the biggest and best of companies have their low moments. In April 1985, Coca Cola decided to rebrand to the New Coke.  This was informed by the fact that at the time, ‘sweet’ was the thing in the 80’s. And so Coca Cola introduced the New Coke which was sweeter than the original formula. 

However, this move was not welcomed by the consumers who liked the previous formula and had grown accustomed to it. Coca Cola had therefore to revert back to their original formula and discard the new one. 


Companies have a duty to have a bond with their customers and understand why they interact with the company. With this, any changes the company wishes to make, they will take their consumers’ takes into consideration

Case 2: Motorola

This is definitely a special case. Motorola is the company that invented the cellphone and actually brought it to market. It also dominated the market in the 80’s and mid 90’s. 

But it refused to move with the times and when in 1994, AT&T right at the emergence of digital technology requested for a digital cellphone, Motorola refused and Nokia stepped in (Nokia is another example).

Keep your ears to the ground and do not be a change victim. Understand the market and what is going on, in this way, you will be able to understand changes that may occur and you can be able to prepare your organization for the expected changes. The sooner you can leverage on incoming change, the better.

The key to cultural change is processes and people. If you can get this aligned to the company’s strategy, there is a higher chance of success.

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Why culture change programs are very hard to accomplish