3 min read

How To Get Started with Culture Change (+Template)

How To Get Started with Culture Change (+Template)

While the culture in the workplace isn’t something tangible, it is a critical component of any successful company, department, or team. Workplace culture impacts almost every aspect of work, from the customer experience to attracting and retaining talent, as well as engagement, productivity, and company performance. 

Given how culture weaves through all aspects of work, it is not surprising many organizations have found their company culture has changed over the last couple of years. In fact, in a 2022 survey by Quantum Workplace, 35% of employees said their company culture had changed dramatically over the past two years, while 23% said it changed for the worse. As such, many leaders have begun to reevaluate their culture.

If you’re thinking about changing the culture in your organization, department, or team, the first question you may ask is, “How do I get started with a culture change?” While a cultural change in the workplace is a significant undertaking with many moving components, this article will help you get the ball rolling and provide you with a template to track your results.


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What Is the First Step in Culture Change?

The first step in changing the culture of a team, department, or organization is evaluating and describing the behaviors today. This is because, as defined by Niagara Institute, culture is “the totality of the behaviors and attitudes of employees and can be witnessed in the way they think, act, and collaborate with each other.” Therefore, to begin a culture change, you must be crystal clear on what the behaviors are today, what behaviors you want to keep, and which ones you want to change.

Norm Sabathy, Executive Vice President of People at Cadillac Fairview Corp, shared in an article for SHRM that in order to for a culture change to stick, it starts with evaluating current behaviors and defining desired behaviors. Simply put, he says, “No MBA speak. Make sure people can really understand and relate [your culture] to day-to-day behavior.” So whatever you decide to be the right behaviors to form the culture you want must be relatable to those from the front line to the executive suite.

Remember that a culture change or culture transformation is a significant change management process best undertaken with an experienced partner. However, you can be ready for your initial conversations with a culture change expert by completing a self-analysis of where your culture is today and what you want it to be in the future.


How to Get Started with Culture Change

ACE Culture Change WorksheetThe Team at Niagara Institute created the ACE Culture Change Worksheet to help you facilitate a discussion to intentionally decide which behaviors to ACE (Add, Continue, and Eliminate) to achieve the desired transformation. An HBR article shared a way to think about this process, “If we had the kind of culture we aspire to, in pursuit of the strategy we have chosen, what kinds of new behaviors would be common? And what ingrained behaviors would be gone?”


These behaviors currently do not exist but are needed to live out in employees' actions to support the organization's mission, vision, values, and corporate strategy post-culture change. However, in this process, many fall into the trap of describing the values they want to see, for example, an inclusive workplace, but need help linking the value to the behaviors required to support that work environment. Ensure the words you use in the add section are the actual behaviors you would expect to see in practice that would create the desired culture.


When you evaluate your culture today, you will want to preserve its strengths. HBR noted that this may be a challenge, “It’s tempting to dwell on the negative traits of your culture, but any corporate culture is a product of good intentions that evolved in unexpected ways and will have many strengths.”

The behaviors you want to preserve or continue are the behaviors employees exhibit today to support the desired culture. You will want to intentionally identify and list these behaviors to ensure they remain and are reinforced throughout the culture change process.


To consider what behaviors need to be changed or eliminated, think about the company today vs. if the company was firing on all cylinders, performing at its best. A pitfall to avoid is wanting to change or eliminate too many behaviors at once. You must be selective in the list of behaviors that need to change. If you try to change too much at once, individuals will become overwhelmed and resist all change

Struggling to Find Words to Describe Culture?

It can be hard to articulate something intangible, like company culture. An easier way to think about culture and the behaviors that make up it is how someone would describe to a friend what it is like to work at your company or on your team. We’ve compiled a list of the best words to describe company culture that can assist in determining how individuals would describe your culture and associated behaviors today and the words you’d like them to use in the future.

110 Words to Describe Your Company Culture

Conclusion: Don’t Go It Alone with Culture Change

Once you’ve identified the need for a culture change, it can be difficult to know where to start and how to initiate a transformation of this magnitude. That’s where we can help. With Niagara Institute’s roster of partners who are experts in culture change and competency development that builds new behaviors, we have the tools, team, and expertise to support your change initiative. No matter if the culture team is within a team, department, or across an entire organization, we have the solution to achieve your desired culture.

The Team Culture Toolkit Conains Resources That Will Help You Understand Where Your Culture Is Today and What You Want It to Be

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