Who Has the Power to Change Culture? You Do!

culture leadership management
You have the power to change the culture.

Most businesspeople I talk to identify a healthy company culture as one of the most essential qualities of a high-functioning organization.

I agree.

When I ask professionals the following question, "In a business, who owns creating a great company culture?" a lot of fingers start to point. Answers to my question vary:

  • "The CEO owns creating the culture.
  • My manager owns it for me.
  • Senior leaders own it.
  • Nobody seems to own it, and someone should step up and try."

I have a different answer to who owns the culture..., "You own the culture." Your role, title, or responsibility don't matter. You contribute to the culture and you ultimately own it.

The formal definition of culture informs my blunt answer that you own the culture. According to Forbes, culture is "the collection of unwritten norms, beliefs and collective attitudes that shape how things get done within your organization."*

The key words in the definition are "the collection." The "collection" refers to everyone's beliefs and attitudes that shape how the organization functions and acts.

Thus, your decisions and actions add to the collection of beliefs and attitudes that form your culture.

Everyone contributes to and owns the culture.

Many companies run a culture survey on an annual basis. I've seen dozens of these surveys, and every year they usually say the same things:

  1. "The culture has room for improvement.
  2. Leaders need to communicate more.
  3. Individuals are unsure how their work aligns with the company's goals.
  4. People want leadership to create a better culture."

Once the annual survey results are published, senior leaders get together and debate what actions they can take to communicate more. Inevitably, they do an extra town hall or two, and guess what? The following year's culture survey says senior leaders need to communicate more, and the culture still needs to improve.

Around and around we go. When we stop, we'll never know.

I have a recommendation: Let's move away from culture surveys that yield the same results every year. Let's not put all the pressure on senior leaders to be the sole activators of the norms and behaviors that shape the culture. I'm not giving a free pass to senior leaders; they have a role to play as well. I'm recommending that every employee take accountability for their contributions to the collection of behaviors that build the culture.

To activate a new approach I encourage HR leaders, in your upcoming culture survey, to ask a few open-ended questions of the employees:

  • "What is the most essential value temployees must have?
  • What aspects of our company culture do you appreciate the most, and why?
  • What improvements would you suggest to enhance our culture?
  • What positive actions can you take to build a more robust culture?
  • What does a positive workplace culture look like to you?
  • What motivates you to do your best work every day?
  • What initiatives or programs would you like to see implemented to support your professional growth?"

Although it would take a bit longer to process the results, the answers will be much more revealing and impactful than a multiple-choice culture survey. Additionally, ALL employees own their answers. They can identify actions, behaviors, and norms to contribute themselves.

-- Now, a note for senior leaders: Your voice carries a few extra decibels of influence and persuasion. Listen to your teams. Reflect on their insights. Ask yourself regularly how your decision-making, communication, and empathy for others contribute to the organization's culture. People are looking to you to role-model the actions and behaviors of a healthy culture. --

My final message for you is to take control and ownership of your company culture.

Each voice within a business contributes to collecting norms, behaviors, and actions that build culture. Deliver the qualities and values that form a high-functioning corporate culture. Your contributions to culture will create a business you're proud of.


*What Is Company Culture? Definition & Development Strategies, Forbes Advisor, Wong & Main, May 2024.

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