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How to Change Business Culture, Values & Behaviours

Win Hearts, Change Minds, Go Viral!

What comes first the culture or the behaviour? Just like the chicken and egg dilemma, trying to change a business’ culture can seem like trying to turn a tanker around at sea. Changing behaviour often seems as impossible, because of the influence of the culture bearing down. So where to begin, culture or behaviour?


– Discover your core – questions to address
– Reward the positive
– Don’t try & fix the negative
– Identify key influencers to spread the change
– It takes at least a year to change course
– Link everyone’s work to purpose
– Run culture workshops
– Use bespoke business games

Questions to Start Analyzing Business Culture

Culture can stifle employees, sometimes employees behaviour can be the tail that wags the dog. Culture is determined by a company’s core values, purpose and beliefs, but how many employees actually know what they are or emulate them within the business?

To consider your culture, the following questions can act as a starting point:

Is it conscious or there by default?
Is your company one that you and all the staff are proud of?
Is your company one that people want to belong to?
Whatever the analysis shows to be the problem, the cure lies within co-creating a strong, healthy culture where freedom is created but within boundaries.

According to Andy Bellass, Co-founder and CSO of hibob ‘the number one reason people turn down a job is surprisingly not salary, but ‘the wrong company culture‘ and a feeling from candidates that they ‘wouldn’t get on’ with their new team.’

‘Businesses that create a sense of ‘belonging’ among their employees attract and retain the best people.’ How to create a sense of belonging is covered further on. In the meantime, what about ‘behaviour’ should change start there?

As an individual, the idea of changing business culture seems an enormous task, even if you are the CEO. If you or your staff are focusing on their concerns about the business, it can feel overwhelming and stressful. Stephen Covey’s well known 7 Habits of Highly Effective People teaches that if we learn to focus on our circle of influence (that which we can change), instead of our circle of concerns (those which are beyond our ability currently to change), then our changed behaviour ripples out in the same way as the butterfly effect. Small changes can eventually cause massive change, given the right environment, purpose and targets.

How to change culture from those that have achieved it, starting with Starbucks

Starbucks example of where to begin changing culture is taken from the Harvard Business Review, written by Paul Leinwand and Varya Davidson

‘When most companies try to improve their culture, they focus on the negative aspects, and try to fix them. This sounds reasonable, but what we’ve learned is that the opposite approach is much more successful. You should identify a few positive attributes within your culture that are connected directly to your identity and the specific capabilities that are driving success in your business, double down on them and find ways to accelerate and extend them throughout the organization. Empower the critical few managers and employees who personify the best behaviors and can help you bring them to the forefront. Work on spreading the critical few behaviors that enable your strategy and counterbalance some of the negative aspects of your culture. Articulate—from the top down—the critical few attributes of your enterprise that people genuinely care about and that can help move your strategy forward. Great behaviors and attributes break down all the barriers to building your distinctive capabilities, and as they expand across the organization, they will squeeze out the negative aspects in your culture.’

Investing in and empowering these critical key people is the most effective way to endorse and enlarge their circle of influence. Causing wanted behaviours’ to go viral is the desired outcome.

43 Company Culture Improvement Ideas (That Actually Work) from Chris Platts, Founder of Thrive Maps
‘Company culture is shaped through your daily work rituals. Habits that set the social and behavioural norms that go onto hone your company’s unique personality. Improving your company culture requires regular work. Just like exercising and eating well leads to good health, constantly investing in your people has the same effect on your company culture. It takes a little effort to get going, but after a while you won’t notice how natural improving your culture becomes.’

Some actionable ideas I really like:

· Link your work to purpose
The common misconception is that you need to be saving the world to feel like what you do is meaningful. If you can link everyone’s job to the value and happiness it creates in people’s lives, you’ll get people who want to come to work because they know they make a difference. My favourite story of this was during a visit to the NASA space center in 1962, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said:

“Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?”
“Well, Mr. President,” the janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

To most people, this janitor was just cleaning the building, but in his reality he was helping to make history.

“Feel good Fridays”

Every Friday each team member shares 3 things that went well, 1 thing they learned and 3 things they are looking forward to next week. As a result, people reflect on the positives, share success together, and actually get excited about coming to work next week. This is something I’ve implemented in different teams to great effect.

Do a culture workshop

Sometimes we’re so entrenched in an organisation we need an external perspective to understand what our culture really is. Doing a workshop with your employees, to talk about how to improve your culture is a really good place to start.

Tristan White Culture change Voted one of the top 5 companies to work for in Australia, Tristan White freely shares his work because he believes the world needs more great teams, organisations and workplaces.

In his book, ‘Culture is Everything: The story and system of a start-up that became Australia’s Best Place to Work’ he begins with 5 great questions:

Discover the Core

Do you have a short & easy-to-understand core purpose? (Instead of a wishy-washy mission statement)
Can EVERY team member recite your core purpose?
Do you have 3-5 core values that EVERY team member can remember?
Are your core values used for a recognition & reward program that drives culture?
Are your core values used in every team member’s quarterly review?
Tristan White asks everyone to freely share his 19 Steps to Building a Great Place to Work. Here is the pdf

It is almost impossible to change business culture head on. Green Hat People specialise in helping companies make fundamental changes to their business culture and employees behavior. If you are looking to bring about a course correction in your company, whether you are an SME or a large multinational we offer unique solutions. We use our experience to embed your new goals, core values and execution plans within bespoke business games.

The games are totally engaging and energising and also provide relevant, direct and positive reinforcement of critical behaviors. Creating optimism and reinvigorated purpose, these feel good emotions are absolutely key to achieving sustainable, long term results. Start your culture change with those who are enthusiastic about your business and hold sway. If your key influencers feel good about what your company is trying to achieve, it will quickly spread. When it is done well and often, eventually a tipping point is reached, changing your company’s culture.

A fun 2-minute video from Dilbert on bad organization culture


Stephen Covey pdf on circles of influence

Culture is Everything by Tristan White


Starbucks article:

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