New Study: 96% Think Culture Change is Needed in Their Organization

First of two parts

Booz & Company just released a very interesting culture study.

Here’s the bottom line: Everyone knows culture is important, culture is not being effectively managed, and they gave some incredibly over-simplified guidelines for managing culture. There must be a better way to build pride, drive out fear, and manage culture effectively.

Here are the highlights from the full study:

  • 84 percent of respondents, and 86 percent of C-Suite respondents, believe that their organization’s culture is critical to business success.
  • 60 percent said culture is more important than the company’s strategy or operating model.
  • 96 percent said some form of culture change is needed within their organization.
  • 51 percent believe their organization is in need of a major culture overhaul.
  • 45 percent do not think their culture is being effectively managed.
  • 48 percent do not think they have the capabilities required to deliver lasting change.
  • At 57 percent, skepticism due to past failed efforts was the No. 1 reason for resistance to change.

How do you manage culture?

There are plenty of frameworks for managing strategy, talent, leadership, or performance, but not culture. Culture has been this elusive, mysterious subject. There are numerous surveys and models but most culture management guidelines resort to over-simplified tips, keys or other suggestions.

This study is no different. Booz gives the following “levers” for sustaining change in their culture video and infographic (they are both very interesting):

  • Focus on a critical few behaviors with the most cultural impact.
  • Expand change capabilities beyond leadership and communication alignment.
  • Activate informal levers, such as peer networks and storytelling.

These are all very accurate guidelines, but to say they have any chance at all of delivering “sustainable change” is a gross misrepresentation.

Article Continues Below

Not a ticket to sustainable change

CEO’s and leaders are left asking “How?” with each lever, but these levers barely touch the surface of any sustainable change effort. Fortunately, they are more connected to performance than the haphazard pizza party, company meeting, or employee survey, but they don’t build a strong culture foundation with any clarity.

Yes, culture is important and most organizations struggle managing it, but I don’t think these “levers,” or many of the other over-simplified best practices we often read about, come anywhere close to supporting sustainable change.

What do you think about the study and the “levers” from Booz? Do you think most people over simplify what it takes for effective culture management?

Tomorrow: The 9 Clear Steps to Culture Change

Tim Kuppler is the co-founder of and Director of Culture and Organization Development for Human Synergistics, a 40+ year pioneer in the workplace culture field with the mission of Changing the World—One Organization at a Time®. He co-authored the 2014 book Build the Culture Advantage, Deliver Sustainable Performance with Clarity and Speed. He previously managed substantial workplace culture transformations as an industry executive and was President and Senior Consultant at Denison Consulting. Contact him at


26 Comments on “New Study: 96% Think Culture Change is Needed in Their Organization

  1. The survey is revealing at many levels. First in the broad recognition of the importance of corporate culture and unfortunately in the equally broad lack of understanding of how to actually manage it. While the Booz levers have some value, it is missing critical front end pieces such as definition, assessment and responsibility. I find the Barrett Values Centre’s Cultural Transformation Tools particularly useful in assessing the current culture and defining the envisioned culture, or in Richard Barrett’s words, “making the invisible visible.” It provides a standard of measure to work towards and by which to critique progress and results.

    1. Greg – thank you for the feedback and advice. The work of the Barrett Values Center is outstanding. I reference them in my new book and follow their work. RoundPegg has social tools that also have a value-based focus. PS Culture Matters and Denison Consulting have assessments more focused on clarity and alignment in an organizations and they are also great options. The challenge with all the assessments is to connect the work to performance in a clear way and to engage the organization in the culture alignment process to build the envisioned culture as you reference. Very few organizations define the culture they are looking to build or reinforce and we’ll cover some key steps in the follow-up post on TLNT tomorrow. The great organizations not only “define” it but “align” their organization’s strategies / priorities and “manage” the day to day work in a very clear and consistent way so everyone feels a part of the process.

  2. Tim, I appreciate your bringing this Booz white paper to our attention.

    I think the white paper provides a pretty good overview of the subject, as you state, but an overview only — without clear specification as to exactly how.

    The Booz recommendations, while to be commended for accuracy, do clearly represent over-simplifications.

    Alongside their simplified recommendations are additional findings, however, that I find consistent with your basic assertion that many executives are hesitant because they simply do not know what to actually do, and may have prior negative experiences to back up their fears.

    “At 57 percent, skepticism due to past failed efforts was the No. 1 reason for resistance to change.”

    Booz also commented that, “Uncertainty, deep down in an organization, can keep a change

    initiative from gaining momentum.”

    “Uncertainty” represents at least a mild form of fear, no?

    I want to focus here on the fact, raised in your earlier blogs, that uncertainty “deep down” (organizational or individual) is not helped by insufficient leadership at the top.

    While this insufficient leadership can be a function of “insufficient clarification” and an “over-simplified plan,” to which your work, presented in THE CULTURE ADVANTAGE and at, provides a much needed informational anecdote, I would like to come back to the issue of executive leaderships’ prior negative EXPERIENCES.

    Most individuals cannot lead others where he or she has not gone, or is not willing to go, him or herself, leading by example.

    This is especially true of individual human awareness and the readily available responses in that individual’s “response repertoire.” Although this applies to all of us, let’s remember we are specifically focused on constructive or maladaptive leadership behaviors. Executive individuals’ awareness (or lack) plays a critical role in the unfolding of a company’s cultural environment.

    For example, if I believe (my) logic is superior to your logic, I will readily perceive “evidence” of that so-called “fact,” and will ignore or denigrate “supposed information to the contrary.” Here we have a description of at least some “My way or the highway!” leaders, with the attendant results.

    Let’s now take this a little further. If I believe logic provides consistently superior knowledge for action than do feelings, I will think and act in a manner that consistently places “logic” in a superior authoritative position and find no real use for exploration or understanding of emotional awareness within the workplace. Rather than “quadraphonic” listening to and understanding of your and my relevant logic and feelings, we have insufficient listening, and the drivers for, wittingly or not, building a culture of fear.

    Now, instead, let’s imagine or remember an organization where top leadership is very astute and actively learning alongside other organizational participants, from top to bottom. In this culture, “quadraphonic” listening (my term) is the norm. This is to say, leadership personally espouses and exemplifies both emotional and intellectual understanding and sharing, and supports the same among others, because it informs more specific strategic actions and self-corrections

    Your recent book Tim, THE CULTURE ADVANTAGE, provides an unusually clear description of what can, does, and has happened in cultural environments characterized by constructive listening both ways throughout the organization — especially at the later stages of culture maturity, using the model you so poignantly present in your book. You provide excellent descriptions of what can happen when executive leadership is “on-board” experientially AND following a plan with sufficient clarity, depth, and breadth. You also provide some descriptions of what can happen when top leadership is not truly on-board.

    Which brings me back to the issue of “personal experience.” If top leadership has not had the personal experience of integrating their own and others’ intellectual and emotional awarenesses into their business decision-making, the organization has hit at least a temporary “dead end” — or at least an insurmountable and limiting artificial “ceiling” that has been imposed upon organizational functioning by the executive leadership. This “artificial ceiling” has been put in place by a “novice,” or at least an incorrectly skilled individual, for that executive position.

    There is an inconvenient paradox in the middle of all of this. This inconvenient paradox is that we cannot get to clear and adept self-awareness all by ourselves. Our community is key for providing us constructive feedback to assist in this regard. While, ultimately, personal awareness is each our own responsibility, since nobody can do it for us, we still must engage with others in a manner, ultimately, conducive for this type of learning and awareness to occur. This requires a level of openness, and concomitant interpersonal vulnerability, and perhaps a giving up of total control of a situation — something many leaders, based upon their experiences perhaps, and certainly upon their beliefs, are hesitant or afraid to do. Additionally (key concept = “more work?”), this requires focusing more effectively on personal behavioral performance, grounded in self awareness, that will unlock others’ personal awareness and performance, too.

    Our executives need the knowledge (such as provided in your book, Tim) plus the EXPERIENCE of adept self-and-other awareness that opens the doors to new constructive company insights occurring within the workforce, where ever the source, and the harnessing of those insights to advantage, while encouraging more!

    You obviously possess this awareness and these skills, Tim. The successes you so poignantly describe (across many platforms) are in part a function of top leaderships’ awareness and experience, in addition to understandings.

    I am interested in and open to your and your readers’ comments as to how best to support this top leadership awareness and experience, in addition to understandings.

    Greg, I thank you for your suggestion of the Barrett Values Centre’s Cultural Transformation Tools for “making the invisible visible.” I shall look into this!

    I thank you, Tim, for your consistently incisive input in the workforce culture arena.

    My best.


    1. Top leadership awareness is not as much of an issue as the experience. I believe the survey supports that awareness exists but the lack of experience with ‘how” to effectively manage culture is the challenge. The TLNT post on the 9 Clear Steps to Culture Change addresses this and I appreciate the positive feedback on my book, the source of these nine steps. The leaders that build remarkable cultures are able to look back and see that they are addressing all 9 areas. Most of them pieced things together as they listened to their organization and improved each of the 9 areas in an integrated way based on feedback from employees and other stakeholders, The 51% from the survey that said a major culture overhaul is needed should follow a clear plan to manage the culture change with confidence. They can accelerate their culture learning curve by applying common-sense approaches that have worked for many others. They can leverage how their organization is wired from a values standpoint and focus the energy in just one or two areas (discipline, organization, teamwork, accountability, etc.) with a connection to their top performance priorities. It has a direct and sustainable impact on business results and the lives of those involved.

      1. TIm,

        I am afraid I was not clear in my first comment as to what I was referring by top leadership “awareness.”

        When top leadership awareness is defined as awareness of an organizational problem “out there,” I agree wholeheartedly with your response.

        What I meant, however, was internal psychological awareness — of feelings alongside logic as valid sources for logical processing and business-related decision-making.

        I have redrafted my original comment (above) to make my points and questions clearer.

        I would welcome your response.


        1. Hi Norma, I appreciate your effort to clarify your point. It’s still a more deeper analysis than what I have ever thought through before. You may be entirely correct but I can’t offer a good opinion through blog post exchanges. Feel free to send me a note and we could talk by phone if you want to take the discussion further. Thanks again for your analysis and input.

          1. Thank you for “hanging in there” with me, Tim. I appreciate it. I will contact you as you suggest, about this and some other matters we have been discussing.
            I realize that in my excitement to share (above) I got a little too “deep” too quickly. I have therefore cut my original comment in half, simplifying my message to perhaps catalyze easier responses, upon which I can build, if there is interest.

  3. “CEO’s and leaders are left asking ‘How?’ …these levers barely touch the surface of any sustainable change effort. …they don’t build a strong culture foundation with any clarity.”

    Within every organization, decision making drives performance. Every employee comes to work every day and makes decisions that impact performance. These decisions, at every level of the organization, define the corporate culture and drive performance.

    Most organizations have ended up with multiple sources of policy, training, surveys, assessments and issue reporting hotlines. To implement and maintain a high performance culture, leadership must acquire data from multiple sources on how well individual roles align with corporate goals and strategy, including:

    1) Internal and external data analytics
    2) Effective policy management (utilizing an online policy library)
    3) Ongoing culture assessment surveys
    4) Performance Scorecards (hard & soft metrics)
    5) Event management and reporting
    6) Annual certifications to the Code of Conduct

    Harvard Business School Professor Robert S. Kaplan and his Palladium Group colleague David P. Norton identify ten (10) process steps to strategy execution:

    Step 1: Visualize the strategy.
    Step 2: Communicate strategy.
    Step 3: Identify strategic projects.
    Step 4: Align projects with strategy.
    Step 5: Align individual roles and provide incentives.
    Step 6: Manage projects.
    Step 7: Make decisions aligned with strategy.
    Step 8: Measure the strategy.
    Step 9: Report progress.
    Step 10: Reward performance.

    An essential role of leadership is to acquire actionable intelligence on how well individual roles align with corporate goals and strategy, and to design incentives that encourage and reward performance and intrepreneurship, while enforcing compliance will applicable laws, rules and regulations.

    With the right tools and the right data, leadership can better understand its workforce to align the culture and subcultures (decision making) with corporate goals and drive performance.

    1. Mark,

      Excellent points, consistent with Tim’s points, I think. No?

      I agree whole-heartedly with your comment, Mark.

      I’d like to tie your comment into mine (below).

      You write, “To implement and maintain a high performance culture, leadership must acquire data from multiple sources on how well individual roles align with corporate goals and strategy, …design incentives… enforcing compliance… With the… right data, leadership can better understand its workforce to align the culture…”

      Yes, well said. And a question I have is to what extent you make a distinction between leadership having the “right tools and the right data” that allow for understandings about company personnel that have been objectively measured (yes! yes!), on the one hand, versus understandings about personnel that have been interpersonally generated and heard?

      I invite you to read my comment below, and to add your three cents, too!

      My best.


    2. Hello Mark,
      Great detail and steps! Thank you. There are many similarities with the 9 step approach and you raise the important point of having the right supporting tools and data. A big difference is zeroing in on a couple performance priorities and behaviors to shift since broad strategy execution is not a strength at many organizations. On the ongoing culture assessment survey front I used the Denison culture survey for 15 years and more recently have used some extremely interesting social technology from RoundPegg and an interesting trend-based approach from PS Culture Matters (their founder is my co-author for the book). Thank you again for your insight.

  4. I believe culture starts with the clear definition of the vision, mission, values and strategic positioning of the firm.

    Ensuring that all members of the management team are in agreement and alignment in those four key areas.

    Communicating the vision, mission, values and strategic positioning to each and every employee so they understand how their job relates to these four key areas.

    Finally, you need a powerful brand story that everyone can share with family, friends, customers and prospects to ensure you are delivering a consistent message, as well as a consistently outstanding customer experience.

    I believe Zappos does a better job of this than Amazon.

    1. I totally agree and these areas are at the core of any effective culture. I also like how you are connecting this to a powerful brand story since I believe your true brand is your culture in many respects. Zappos is one of the best at this as you reference since they have a very deep values-based and reinforcing approach – something to be admired and emulated.

    2. I totally agree and those areas are at the core of an effective culture. You also covered some of the other key areas referenced in the second part of this post – The 9 Clear Steps to Culture Change. I really like your reference to a brand story since I believe in many ways your culture is your brand. Zappos, as you identified, does an amazing job at defining and reinforcing a strong values foundation across their entire business – something to be admired and emulated.

  5. Simple as that:
    – “I say what I do, I do what I say” or
    – “Walk the Talk”
    Best way to establish a “company culture” is the leadership to be the example, on a daily basis, on every single action or attitude; employees will understand, trust and follow

    1. That’s absolutely critical – another way to say it is that people practice what they preach – it applies to all 9 steps of the follow-up culture change post. It’s unfortunately quite difficult to make the decision about what to do first and that was the intent of focusing on building a strong culture foundation in post #2. Thank you for the input. I wonder what the survey results would have shown if there was a question about leaders and managers walking the talk or practicing what they preach???

    2. I couldn’t agree with this more. Engagement and brand-building strategies are always useful, but contrived ploys will only build resentment if they are merely a response to growing dissatisfaction. I truly believe they are all for naught unless leaders build an organization employees want to be a part of, a place they appreciate, trust and respect; it has to be on a foundation of “This is a place I want to work,” and that starts from within, from the top down, and “Walking the talk.”

  6. I
    call that mentalism, when we try to explain people’s behavior from culture,
    traits, intentions or similar metal processes. It is the common sense
    explanation of behavior problems. We have behavior problems so it has to be the
    culture, attitude, personality traits or even salary that has to be addressed.
    Psychologist discovered almost a hundred years ago that these things do not govern
    behavior. The definition of culture is “the behaviors that is accepted or not
    accepted in a specific group of people”. Behavior is governed by the immediate
    consequences in the situation, not by culture. Culture is a result of behavior.

    1. Thank you, Guest, for pointing out the dangers of what I would call “the tail wagging the dog,” which you label as “mentalism.”

      Rationalizing behavior in terms of constructs (psychological or environmental) also strikes me as a kind of “mentalism” to avoid, if I think of “mentalism” as trying to rationalize any individual’s or group’s behavior according to any construct, internal or external to the individual or group.

      It is not “mentalism,” however, when we use constructive mental constructs and methods, clarified and honed by means of our own and other’s empirical inquiries and reports, using specific measurement techniques tested already by many others before us, to take our understandings of ourselves and of each other beyond our “common sense” understandings (rationalizations). No. In this case, we are utilizing tried-and-true methods, that others before us have also found very helpful, to specifically guide our inquiries beyond “common sense” and into clarification of how we can become even more effective, whether as individuals and/or as groups.

      It is true, as you assert, that specific internal or environmental conditions do not necessarily and ultimately determine each and every individual’s specific actions, because, in fact, individuals typically act according to their own personal perceptions of options and of the immediate consequences that matter to them in that situation.

      You are correct when you assert, “Culture is a result of behavior.”

      It is not correct, however, to think or imply that behavior is not also a function of culture. “Behaviors that are accepted or not accepted in a specific group of people” can impact an individual’s understanding and acceptance of options and of consequences in that setting. Environmental conditions can set the parameters within which, pardon my limited analogy, most of those within “the school of fish” swim, with consequences not all good for those who do not stick with what is accepted or portrayed by others in that group. Remember, “culture” is also about passing along key attitudes and behaviors considered important to survival in that setting.

      It is also important to refrain from lumping together individual and group constructs, as you have in your thought-provoking comment.

      Consider the importance of this distinction as we revisit the definition of culture you have provided for us: “behaviors that are accepted or not accepted in a specific group of people.”

      Let’s presume that fantastic customer service is the strategic company goal of focus at the moment. and that quick and informative responses to customer complaints are key to customer satisfaction. You and I are members of our company’s five-member Customer Response Team. Based upon behavioral tracking psychometrics developed as a team effort by corporate 5 years ago, four of us are operating at an overall 104% effectiveness and one of us is operating at an overall 97% effectiveness, in terms of “goals met for the company.”

      If limited to an individual level of analysis, for the moment, we might be tempted to conclude that one member of the team “has a problem.” We might be tempted to employ any of the INDIVIDUAL “mental constructs” you have described to rationalize why. Or, if we posses the wisdom and willingness to invest a little to employ tried-and-true methods for specific inquiry into and understanding of individual performance problems and successes, we may be able to discover constructive behavioral alternatives that are available to one or more individuals that were, at first, counter-intuitive to those involved.

      If not limited to an individual level of analysis, we may discover that there are specific environmental and/or behavioral changes that can be made, as a group, that will significantly support performance by lower as well as higher performing individuals. There may be team changes, that can be readily made, that will improve everyone’s performance.

      Approaching such constructive change using only “common sense” to inquire or rationalize will often not provide the clarity quickly enough that is needed to deliver sustainable individual and or systems change with the clarity, speed and momentum required to optimally succeed, if succeed at all.

      By taking advantage of tried and true methods of inquiry and measurement, you catalyze relevant learning, constructive actions, and necessary course corrections that go well beyond one’s initial “common sense.”

      Moreover, there is no need for you to “re-invent the wheel” yourself, although you will have to tailor its use in your operations. You can build upon the successful work of others before you. You can begin with building a strong foundational framework for understanding and evaluating operating drivers of your current culture and typical phases for improvement, as Mr. Kuppler points out and describes so well.

      By utilizing conceptual frameworks, measurement methods, and learning processes that have already been invented, tested, and honed, you are able to eliminate much guess-work and to thereby establish the necessary priorities and investments, starting with those required of yourself in addition to your company’s other stakeholders’, that will be ultimately critical for success.

      1. Norman, I have to agree with you on this one. While I do think it’s easy for leaders to blame a behavior issue on something else that has to be addressed, It’s up to the leader to take action irrespective of cause. Patience, persistence and positive actions going forward will have an impact and it starts with one person (ideally a top leader), the first followers and then a wider movement. It takes a focus on behavior and results as part of customizing tried and true frameworks (instead of “reinventing the wheel” as Norman references). Thank you both for the comments.

  7. I find myself talking to leaders about what influences the choices employees make, how we as individuals and us as a team grow to become high performing as a group. The critical reliance on great leadership skills is where it fails, this can be easily addressed with more focus on what an effective manager does day to day, their behaviours.

    Organisations do not change because those leading them fail to take the necessary steps to bring the values to the top of the agenda and focus instead on the balance sheet. The reality is that motivation is the response we get when our values align and as a result our behaviours have a positive influence over others ” a team is born.

    It may be that those at the top table focus on the balance sheet but it is the responsibility of all line managers to interpret their vision and bring it to life.

    Cultural change is not as difficult as it may seem but it will take a shift in a common belief that line managers manage as oppose to inspire, create and innovate (lead).

    1. Hello Paul – GREAT input and perspective. An aligned culture delivers business and people results. It’s often hard to gain top leader support for a new or revised approach if they don’t see the direct connection to performance. I’m fine with starting there and talking about the frustrations and issues they run into “managing” this work internally. Many of the frustrations invariable lead back to culture at the root. I think that connection is undermined if someone goes at those issues generically to train, develop or implement some other system / change. Start with a connection to a top performance priority and engage the organization with some focus (and lead as you define – inspire, create, innovate) to solve the problems that have been holding back the organization from reaching its full potential with a specific performance priorities. Learn from that narrow focus and expand to other areas from there with greater clarity and speed. Have a plan, follow some of the best practices that were summarized in the second post referenced at the end of this blog post or use another approach if it’s a better fit. The great leaders and organizations realize you have to focus on behavior and results.

  8. Companies can institute corporate mentoring programs with a specific goal in mind, such as a cultural overhaul. Investing in a mentoring program tells employees “We care about you and want to make an investment in your future with this organization.” Besides achieving the specified goal (in this case, company culture), you also create a stronger workforce while developing and retaining talent. Thanks for the great article!

    1. Love the mentoring idea. I learned more from my mentees about the culture and what needed to change than they probably learned from me (the mentor). I do think there needs to be a common core related to vision / purpose, values and priorities for the mentoring efforts to be steered in the right direction if it’s a wider effort across an organization. Thank you for the input and the feedback.

  9. Some times it is necessary to change the culture of the organization in order to make a profitable change in the organisational point of view. So Leadership can be a better change to in order to change the organization culture.

  10. You have illuminated a most important issue. I will share what I learned managing people for over 30 years.

    The culture we all want is one that reflects the highest standards of all the good things like industriousness, openness, honesty, respect, performance, integrity, commitment, caring, cooperation, collaboration, motivation, morale, happiness, quality, safety, and the like. Fortunately, this culture is what every human wants to be a part of and to work in and won’t want to leave. Most importantly, almost all will help to create such a culture.

    Now for the big question. Who lives in the culture every minute of every day and is better,able to judge how good it is? The answer is not top management or mid-level management because they are not the ones living with it every minute and are not good judges. The answer is the working level people. The reason they are better judges is because they still use their gut to judge while most educated people erroneously think they can use their reasoning brain to figure out how good something is.

    So, in order to create the very best culture, management listens to employee complaints and suggestions and then responds to what was said in a timely and respectful manner to the satisfaction of the employee(s) or better meaning to a higher standard. The more management does this, the more employees will object to anything not meeting the highest standards in any way. In so doing, management has demonstrated the greatest respect for employees thus leading them to treat their work, their customers, each other, and their bosses with great respect.

    Once employees realize this will always be done, they realize that they can influence everything in the workplace. This ability to influence everything begets a sense of ownership – that this is just as much their workplace as it is anyone’s. In the same way, a sense of ownership begets commitment. This process will also satisfy the employee’s needs to have autonomy, competence, and relatedness and with all needs satisfied, they will choose to become fully engaged.

    This is the culture that will vault any company to being best in its industry.

    Of course, management can decide that its job is to direct and control the workforce. In this way management will create a workplace characterized by disrespect and poor performance. Then management can blame employees when in truth management was the cause.

    1. Thank Ben for your insights! I agree with the power of listening to employee suggestions / complaints and responding. I do think it needs to be part of an organized approach so everyone isn’t judging why leaders picked Sally’s idea over John’s. Some good habits surrounding the definition of goals / priorities as a team and keeping people engaged to also identify the top adjustments over time will help get the most mileage out of the ideas / suggestions you referenced. Thanks again for the input / feedback.

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