How To Start To Change Organizational Culture

It feels like a trick question: where do you start when it comes to changing culture? To change organizational culture, there are many elements to consider in a high performing culture, so where do you begin? How do you improve alignment? How do you improve communication? How do you improve the employee experience? It’s easy to see how building an amazing company culture can feel daunting.  Where do you begin?

At Unitonomy, we are passionate about culture and helping people work together better.  We’ve developed a 30/60/90 Day Plan to help you take the lead and start cultivating your work culture into a great culture where your team members, your bottom line, and your organization as a whole can all thrive.  This timeline is a good place to start, though you may need to adjust it slightly for your organization.  A 100 day plan timeframe can work too; the important thing is to start.  Deep cultural change takes time, but the sooner you begin, the closer you’ll be to your goal. Let’s get started!

The Unitonomy Culture Canvas

To help you get a feel for all the areas to consider when thinking about culture management to change organizational culture, we’ve created the Unitonomy Culture Canvas:

The Culture Canvas helps you to plan what is needed to change organizational culture

The Unitonomy Culture Canvas starts where culture cultivation starts: by asking questions and listening. Culture is something owned and defined by everyone in the organization, from the new hire or the intern all the way up to the c-suite. Some may have more influence than others, yet the tone of the culture is set by every interaction between colleagues. Asking questions is also how you will measure your organizational culture as you manage it. This is why measurement sits in the center of the canvas. You can’t improve what you don’t measure.

There are several elements to measure when it comes to culture. Generally, tools labeled as “people analytics” assess one or more of these broad dimensions:

  • Employee Engagement.  This assesses how individuals feel about their work in general.
  • Employee Sentiment. This examines the employee experience to understand how the individual feels about the workplace culture and their treatment within that culture.
  • Collaboration Effectiveness.  This assesses performance in the context of people performing together. 

(Pro tip: if you’re looking for a system that measures all three and is affordable, try

From the beginning of this 30/60/90 Day Plan, you need to be thinking about and enacting ways to measure your company’s culture within these three dimensions.  Ideally, this includes determining what you will be measuring (and improving!), establishing a baseline at the beginning, and taking measurements on a regular cadence (quarterly at a minimum).  

30/60/90 Day Plan

This 30/60/90 Day Plan includes:

0-30 Days – Assessing the Baseline Culture Survey

Objectives:  To listen.  To assess and understand the existing culture.  To determine areas for improvement.

For this period, your focus should be on listening.  Begin by having individual conversations. In a smaller organization, you should conduct interviews with all employees.  For larger organizations where this is not possible within a reasonable timeframe, make sure your sample size of conversations includes representation from all different departments and ranges from new employees to seasoned ones, and across the spectrum of job titles.  You’ll also want to go over any past efforts and previous data gathered around the company’s corporate culture and work environment.

This listening tour serves a second purpose too: listening displays empathy. These individual conversations are an opportunity to listen and repeat the frustrations voiced. The people you interview will begin to develop trust in your effort when they hear you recite their frustrations and see you take notes. You now have a bridge to connect.

  • Who.  What is the workforce like in your organization, and how did it come to be that way? Some things to listen for:
    • How satisfied are people with their individual jobs, with their team, and with the company overall?  What, if any, are the areas of frustration?
    • Does the organization have a high turnover rate in certain areas or in general?
    • What is the hiring process like and are there consistent characteristics that it tends to favor in candidates? How and where is the company recruiting?      
    • Are there gaps in the talent needed to accomplish the work of the organization, either in personnel or in training? 
  • Why.  Why are your employees working for your company and what drives them?  Some things to listen for:  
    • Can employees articulate the organization’s mission and vision?  Can they verbalize the core values of your organization?
    • Aside from a paycheck, what motivates the employees in your organization to do their best work?
    • Do they feel like the work they do on a day-to-day basis maps back to the mission and vision and the company values?  If not, what are the gaps?
  • What.  What kind of culture exists versus what kind of culture is needed.  Some things to listen for:   
    • How do employees describe the current culture?  Is there a sense of camaraderie across the organization or just in pockets?
    • How are challenging problems (both internal and external) solved currently?
    • Do employees feel a shared sense of belonging?  Is this consistent across the organization, or just for certain groups?
    • Are employees satisfied with their work/life balance overall?
  • How.  How do employees work together? Some things to listen for:   
    • How are decisions made collectively?  Does that process build autonomy? 
    • What is blocking decision-making or emerging autonomy?
    • Is there a sense of trust between individuals and across teams?  Is there a sense of trust as it relates to the company itself?
    • Do team members have a shared sense of accountability? Is hard work shared across teams or disproportionately shouldered by certain individuals?
  • Where.   Where do collaboration and communication appear in the organization? Some things to listen for:   
    • Where and how do communication and data flow?  
    • What tools and systems are used and how do they synchronize information?
    • How do team members share information and knowledge?
    • What is the cadence of communication?  
    • Where are there obstacles blocking the flow of information?
    • How is data collected, organized, and shared?
    • How does personal organization influence team performance?
  • When. How you spend your resources reflects your priorities.  Some things to listen for:   
    • When and how are employees investing their time?  How are they prioritizing?
    • How are employees supported and made to feel safe?  How is the organization investing in employees? 
    • Are there any obstacles to that safety or investment?

With these conversations and data in hand, it’s time to plan the road forward.

31-60 Days – Formulating a Plan to Change Organizational Culture

Objectives:  To aggregate findings from the baseline assessment.  To determine or reinforce the vision for the desired culture.  To formulate a plan and strategy for achieving that vision.

Now that you have a good sense of what exists within the current culture, it’s time to start shaping the future culture.  What do you want the culture to look like and what are the gaps between today’s culture and that vision? What strengths or weaknesses emerged from your initial assessment of the existing culture? Where do you want to go from here?  It’s time to create your plan to change organizational culture and develop longterm strategy for keeping a strong company culture.

An important thing to keep in mind is your communication and visibility with your employees.  You’ve had conversations with many, if not all, of them by this point.  They’ve given you excellent insight into your existing company culture and you’ve begun to strengthen a sense of trust with them.  This gives your culture cultivation some excellent momentum, but also a sense of urgency and impetus to make visible, meaningful changes.  Your co-workers will want to see *something* happening, now that you’ve been entrusted with their perspectives and insights.  Be transparent with your process and communicate, communicate, communicate.

During this window of time, prioritize movement on “low-hanging fruit” changes that can be made easily.  Overall culture is slow to change and will require constant reiteration and reaffirmation over a long period of time.  In the meantime, look for things that emerge from your listening tour that you can prioritize for early wins.  These should be changes that deliver solid value for minimum effort.  In the 31-60 day window, identify 2-3 of these actionable changes and deliver on them.  And when you do, communicate, communicate, communicate about that action!

  • Why.    
    • Begin by revisiting your organization’s mission and vision statements.  
      • Are they clear and well-known by staff?  
      • When were they established and last revisited? 
      • Has anything changed within the company and/or did something NOT captured in the current mission and vision statements surface from your conversations with employees?
    • Solidify and reinforce your mission and vision statements and make sure all effort maps back to these.  
  • Who.      
    • What surfaced in your interviews with regard to how people felt about their jobs? Are there consistent themes to the frustrations?
    • What talent gaps exist?  Could those be filled with training or reorganization?
    • Are there areas of high turnover? What is potentially inspiring the turnover? 
    • How do hiring and onboarding processes communicate the company culture? How is the company attracting a diversity of minds?
    • What programs and safeguards support new hires in their first year with the organization?
  • What.      
    • What areas of the current culture did employees highlight?  What gaps or challenges did they describe?
    • How is a sense of belonging fostered within teams and the overall organization?
    • What can be improved with regard to problem-solving approaches?
    • What is working or not-working with employees’ work/life balance?  What can improve that balance?
  • How.   
    • How should decisions be made, compared to how they are being made currently?     
    • How can obstacles to autonomy be removed? 
    • How do we develop a shared sense of accountability?
  • Where.                      
    • What needs to be improved with regard to the flow of information?
    • Where is effort duplicated and/or lost?
    • What platforms offer efficiency and collaboration?
    • How are people collaborating and what would support or improve that collaboration?
    • What barriers can be removed, with regard to data flow and communication?
  • When.       
    • What are the priorities for improving your work culture?
    • What is the timeline for implementing changes to the organizational culture? 
    • What investment of effort, resources, time needs to be made to improve the culture?

61-90 Days – Implementing The Plan to Change Organizational Culture

Objectives:  To have buy-in across the organization on the culture management plan. To establish the means by which to measure the effectiveness of the plan.  To implement the culture management plan.

You are now several months into making a change in your organizational culture, enough time to be seeing hopeful sprouts and tiny seedlings, but obviously too early to grow a full tree.  You’ve listened (and are continuing to listen).  You’ve enacted early, visible, and impactful wins.  Now it’s time for the long-term strategy.

Think of the long-term strategy as turning an aircraft carrier around.  You’ve got your coordinates, you know where you need to be headed, and you’re steering that way.  It’s going to take time, however, and patience to get things headed in the desired direction.  Stay the course.

Along the way, during this time period and well-beyond, you need to constantly do two things:

First, measure, measure, measure.  Check your coordinates regularly to make sure you are still headed in the right direction.  This includes circling back to your people to check in with them, but also capturing and quantifying changes within your overall culture.   

 (Pro tip: if you’d rather spend your time focused on building your culture than tracking all the data minutiae, let handle the measurement piece)

Secondly, communicate, communicate, communicate.  You’ve probably sensed a theme with this guidance, but poor communication is one of the critical places where organizations tend to trip up. You’re putting in all of this great effort to changing your organizational culture; you need to continue reinforcing and amplifying what has been done.  

  • Who.    
    • Continue listening and strengthening your relationship with your employees.
    • Work with HR to shape recruitment strategies. Identify needed hires (both in terms of position and skills) and create a long-term strategy for filling those positions. 
    • Develop practices to strengthen the bonds within and across teams.
    • Develop additional training and educational options for staff that align with their needs and those of the organization.
  • Why.    
    • Work with HR to make sure recruitment strategies fit your culture and your messaging reflects the company’s values.
    • Determine ways to display and reference the mission and vision of the organization across multiple platforms and practices. 
    • Make sure the onboarding experience for new hires integrates mission and vision into the process.  Find ways to illustrate the lived experience of the company’s mission and vision through examples from current employees.
  • What.
    • Continue to track the health and strength of your culture against metrics with a regular cadence.
    • Create spaces, whether tangible or virtual, where employees can celebrate and champion their team-members.
    • Focus on short and long-term improvements to the work/life balance of your employees and to their sense of belonging and safety within the team and organization.
    • Reorient efforts around problem-solving, not “people solving.” Teams should focus on getting to the solution together, not blaming each other.
  • How.      
    • Focus on improvements to empower employees in decision-making spaces and areas for growth.
    • Foster trust and autonomy, along with a shared sense of accountability and “ownership” of the collective work. 
  • Where.   
    • Streamline communication to have effective impact, not necessarily volume, within the organization.
    • Organize data flow using best practices that fit your team.
    • Measure collaboration and champion best practices within your organization.
    • Remove unnecessary barriers to workflow and collaboration.
  • When.      
    • Continue to prioritize and revisit the investments you are making in your culture.
    • Measure improvement in sentiment and other culture indicators with regular cadence.
    • Communicate these efforts and results to the organization frequently.  Consistently reaffirm the company culture is moving in the desired direction.

Day 91 – Strengthening The Habit

One doesn’t change organizational culture and then stop after 90 days!  Culture is a living, breathing element that needs ongoing attention and nurture.  Once you’ve implemented your strategy, you’ll need to revisit it on regular occasions (outside of the cadence you’ve established for measuring its impact) in order to refresh and reconfirm the fundamental structure of your culture.

To change organizational culture, companies need to make sure employees feel ownership of the culture. OrgVitals is geared to survey culture perpetually to help culture managers and consultants track employee sentiment and measure culture indicators over time as your culture and company grow and thrive. 

(Note: this article is geared toward companies that already have many employees and an existing work culture (intentionally created or not).  For startups who are at an earlier stage, these are some good principles to keep in mind as you lay the groundwork for your company.  Set a time early in your future growth (when your staff size begins to scale, usually around the 15-20 person mark) to revisit your blueprints for culture and adjust accordingly

Are you a culture consultant? OrgVitals is an end-to-end assessment solution for your clients. Learn more!