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Turning the Ship Around: A Guide to Changing Workplace Culture

Updated Aug 29, 2023

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If your company endures high employee turnover, low productivity and many complaints from employees and customers, you may need to change your workplace culture. Company culture is an unwritten, underlying “way we do things around here” attitude. It becomes ingrained in employee behavior and is quickly communicated to new hires, making it challenging to change. 

While it isn’t easy, you can create a more positive work life and office culture for your team and enjoy positive and long-lasting results across your organization. We’ll share leadership tips for changing workplace culture and helping every employee flourish and succeed.

Tips for changing workplace culture

Every business and employee is unique, so approaches to changing workplace culture will differ. Consider the following tips for creating sustainable change in the workplace to craft a happy, productive work culture that suits your business.

1. When changing workplace culture, consider individual employees.

Changing workplace culture companywide is your ultimate goal. However, when you’re getting started, you must narrow your focus to a more granular level. Consider the individuals who comprise your organization. After all, if the people in your business don’t change, your company culture can’t change.

Some people have a bigger impact on company culture than others. Consider the people in management and leadership positions. Employees take cues from business owners and company executives. What they say, how they act and the policies they implement have lasting effects. Additionally, unofficial leaders can wield power. Charismatic and well-liked team members can significantly affect company culture – as can unpleasant and toxic individuals.

If you identify a leader or team member with problematic behavior or a bad attitude, talk to them and try to understand their motivations. For example, say you’re dealing with someone who routinely undercuts co-workers because they want a promotion. They may think they’re demonstrating take-charge, self-starter behavior. You can explain that you value collaboration and teamwork. 

2. Make the right hiring and firing decisions to change workplace culture.

The biggest key to changing culture is eliminating toxic employees and infusing the business with the right talent. Unfortunately, this is also the hardest thing to do. Your first step is to sit down with existing employees and determine who must go. Signs it’s time to terminate an employee include the following: 

  • They’re unwilling to change after repeated feedback.
  • They never admit to mistakes. 
  • They demonstrate consistently lazy behavior.
  • They won’t accept constructive criticism. 

After terminating toxic employees, you must find new hires that align with your corporate values. Focus on the big picture in the hiring process, not insignificant things like specific language in the job description. Consider hiring for attitude over experience if the job skills needed are teachable. 

FYIDid you know

Hiring for a cultural fit is crucial to maintaining a positive workplace culture. Introducing someone with the wrong attitude and values can derail teamwork and undo your efforts to create a healthy environment.

3. Set short-term goals when changing company culture.

Short-term goals foster steady, consistent change. Gather your leadership team and develop a list of specific, tangible changes you want to see in the workplace culture. Examples include the following: 

  • You want employees to show up on time.
  • You want lower-level employees to seek out more responsibilities.
  • You want an environment that fosters creativity.
  • You want better communication among managers and team members.
  • You want better employee collaboration.

After identifying short-term goals, you can develop specific timetables to attack them. Instead of trying to juggle multiple changes simultaneously, tackle them one at a time. For example, start by developing new rules that encourage punctuality. Once that’s no longer an issue, focus on motivating lower-level employees. Once that ball is rolling, consider how you can encourage across-the-board creativity and innovation. Short-term goals build momentum and ultimately push your organization to long-term, sustainable change.

4. Listen to employees to improve workplace culture.

Regardless of how well you think you know your employees, you can’t really know what they’re thinking or feeling without asking. 

Sit down and discuss the company’s workplace culture with everyone in the organization. Ask them what they’d change, what they like and what they feel holds them back from accomplishing more. This listening exercise shows employees that you care and provides valuable insights into what’s happening on the ground level.

TipBottom line

A key part of a positive workplace culture is showing that you value employees. Feeling undervalued – monetarily and via a lack of appreciation – is a top reason employees quit.

5. Follow through with promises to change workplace culture.

Creating sustainable behavioral change means setting boundaries and making promises. For example, if employee tardiness is a serious problem, you may vow to dock pay for every minute an employee is late. But if you say you’ll do this, you must follow through.

Or, you may choose positive reinforcement. For example, promise to reward employees with an extra day off for every 20 consecutive days they arrive early. 

Whether negative or positive reinforcement, you must be prepared to follow through with the promises you make.

Bottom LineBottom line

An ethical business culture that starts at the top will help foster a respectful workplace environment that rewards employees for honest, fair and loyal behavior.

Challenges of changing workplace culture

Changing an entrenched workplace culture isn’t easy. However, with patience and effort, it can be done. Here are a few of the challenges you may face when trying to change workplace culture and how to solve them. 

1. Not all executives are on board with changing workplace culture.

It’s possible that not all leadership team members and managers are on board with changing the workplace culture. These holdouts may undermine the process because some part of the dysfunctional culture stems from their beliefs and values. 

These individuals may subtly encourage employees who don’t change their behavior, refuse to enact penalties or even reward negative behavior. They may continually demonstrate toxic behavior themselves. 

Solution: Before implementing changes, meet with all owners and executives to discuss the current culture’s problems and how they are negatively affecting the company. Bring data that demonstrates the current culture’s adverse effects on sales, customer attrition, recruiting costs and other KPIs. Stress how changes can improve everyone’s bottom line. Solicit feedback from everyone, and answer the doubters. 

2. Employees don’t understand the company culture changes.

It’s difficult to get people to change their behavior if they don’t understand why they’re being asked to change. People get comfortable doing things a specific way, and change is hard. Without a strong motivator, they will keep doing things the old way.

Solution: Call an employee meeting to explain why you’re implementing company culture changes. Share how these changes will make their jobs easier, more productive and less frustrating. When they understand why they’re being asked to change, they’ll be more likely to adjust their behavior and suggest changes in company processes. It’s also crucial to explain how these new expectations will be enforced – and the consequences of noncompliance.

3. The workplace culture changes seem too drastic.

Expecting your employees to change the way they work instantly is unreasonable. If the new behaviors are completely opposite from everything they’ve been doing, you may encounter resistance and see employees quit. For example, say your sales team culture has always been aggressive and salespeople were instructed to make the sale no matter what. However, now you want your sales team to do consultative selling. This drastic shift will take some time to digest.  

Solution: Take smaller steps over time to reach your ultimate goal. Breaking up a larger task into smaller parts will feel less overwhelming to employees and less like a repudiation of them personally.

TipBottom line

To build a positive sales culture specifically, ensure you hire people with the attitude and experience you want, create healthy workplace competition, and emphasize activity over results.

4. You haven’t followed up after implementing culture changes. 

Workplace culture manifests itself in various ways, depending on the department and employee level. Implementing changes may be an uneven process, and departments may feel stymied or conflicted by another area or a competing imperative. 

Solution: Talk to managers and employees throughout the company frequently during the transition. Ask them how they feel the new policies are working, if they’ve seen positive changes, and if they’re confused or challenged by the new expectations. Gathering feedback allows you to tweak your policy or reinforce it as needed.

Did You Know?Did you know

When changing your workplace culture, track company culture metrics like employee referrals, productivity KPIs, and turnover and retention rates to ensure you’re on track.

Focus on the long-term goal

Creating sustainable change in a company entrenched in its ways is no small feat. In fact, it’s an astronomical challenge. However, it can be done. These tips can help you transition to a positive, strong company culture while improving employee engagement and morale. 

Remember to focus on individuals, not the process, because real change starts with people. Also, remember that change doesn’t happen overnight. Over time, you’ll see your company’s KPIs improve and the workplace become happier and more productive with higher performance levels. 

Jennifer Dublino
Contributing Writer at
Jennifer Dublino is a prolific researcher, writer, and editor, specializing in topical, engaging, and informative content. She has written numerous e-books, slideshows, websites, landing pages, sales pages, email campaigns, blog posts, press releases and thought leadership articles. Topics include consumer financial services, home buying and finance, general business topics, health and wellness, neuroscience and neuromarketing, and B2B industrial products.
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