What To Do If Your Culture Change Efforts Fail

April 14, 2022
April 14, 2022 Jamie Notter

If you caught a fish every time, they’d call it “catching” not “fishing.”

Remember that phrase when you start down the path of changing your culture to make it more aligned with what makes you successful. Some of the things that you try are not going to work out, or at least they won’t have as big an impact as you might have hoped. But don’t give up. Here are some tips to keep you focused and on track, even in the face of disappointment.

Design a number of change efforts before you start implementing. You should always have a backlog of possible culture change “plays” in your playbook that are ready to go if the one you’re doing now starts to falter. You’ll never achieve real culture change with just one change effort anyway, so flesh a bunch out and keep them in your back pocket.

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Do a post-mortem. If your project didn’t work, get the right people around the table and have a deep conversation about why. This is not always an easy conversation, but you have to do it. You might have to tell a superior that they made an ineffective decision. You might have to own up to the fact that you let this slip on your own priorities. But avoiding the conversation because that makes you uncomfortable is going to slow down both your learning and your culture change.

Make sure your culture hasn’t changed in other ways. Sometimes a change effort stalls because while you were working on it, your culture changed in a new way you hadn’t predicted. We’re seeing a lot of this as organizations are going back to the office and discovering that the culture isn’t what it used to be. Big changes like that might require you to scrap some of the change efforts you planned a while ago.

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Ignore the sunk costs. You may be tempted to keep trying something that’s not working because you feel bad that you have already invested a lot of time or effort in it and stopping would be “wasting” that effort. Don’t let your brain trick you like that. Every change effort is an opportunity for learning, so it’s never really “wasted.” Just let it go and move on to the next project.

In our culture coaching we help leaders manage these setbacks and maintain the momentum of their culture work.

Jamie Notter

Jamie is a co-founder and culture strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders create amazing workplace cultures that drive greater performance and impact. He brings thirty years of experience to his work designing and managing culture, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is the co-author of four popular business books, including the award-winning Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement, and his fall 2023 release, Culture Change Made Easy. He holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.