The Challenges of Changing Corporate Culture—and How You Can Still Prevail

The Challenges of Changing Corporate Culture

Over the years, there has been a number of hostile takeovers, buyouts, and acquisitions of companies. Sometimes, after some growing pains, two companies may merge into one, combining the best of each world. But at other times, it’s a clash. You cannot change corporate culture overnight (or easily, for that matter).

In 2022, the world saw a takeover of a major microblogging site. A picture was shared of a manager in a sleeping bag on the floor of one of their West Coast offices resulting in much social media outcry. The fallout of the takeover, in general, was a hostile rejection of the new owner’s style. 

But it doesn’t have to be a takeover to cause disharmony, chaos, and unhappiness. Changing the culture from within is just as difficult at times.

I took my company, IPC, remote years before the global pandemic caused a seismic shift in the way we work. We had growing pains there, too. But what I first did—before instituting big change—was listen.

Here are some reasons why changing culture is difficult:

  • Corporate culture is, by definition, “the way we do things.” People are reluctant to give that up—they are comfortable.
  • Corporate culture is a shared identity. One journal described it as: “shared social identity refers to a set of people who view each other as members of a common social group. In colloquial terms, it refers to a sense of ‘we-ness.’”
  • Corporate culture is an onion. It has many layers (and a few of them may make you want to cry!). 
  • Corporate culture is both established—and resilient. I remind people that when you come aboard a company and want to make changes or you are tasked with making changes from within, you are inheriting the people and their roles. The strongest things that bind them together (both good and bad) are the toughest things to change. Like footprints in the sand at the shoreline, you may think you are making an impression, but it quickly “fills in” by the strength of the tide.

I’ve spent a great deal of time examining the best ways to change culture, both writing about it in my book, but also living it. Some of my suggestions include:

  • Spend time listening, but have a clear vision—and C-suite and organizational leadership buy-in. Ensure leaders have integrity and embody the values you want—and be prepared to make changes if they do not.
  • Make sure all hiring and firing decisions align with the vision and mission you have identified.
  • Know that corporate culture is a bit like a virus—and that negative people and those who refuse the efforts of change can spread their attitude. It is essential to contain dysfunction and toxicity.
  • Reward and acknowledge successful change and KPIs with your new goals and mission.
  • In a very troubled organization, do not tolerate toxic behaviors and draw lines in the sand over things that cannot be compromised.
  • Create transformational teams across all sectors—the very best—to develop employee buy-in of the new values. Develop the leaders you know can be part of the change.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Finally, know changing a corporate culture does not happen overnight. But the results of a positive corporate culture include less turnover, greater employee satisfaction, better performance, greater corporate reputation, and much more.

By John W. Mitchell

Fergus G Neville et al. (August 5, 2020), “Shared Social Identity Transforms Social Relations in Imaginary Crowds,” Group Process & Intergroup Relations,” Volume 25, Issue 1,,ways%20I%20view%20the%20group, accessed 1/18/2022.