I was at a Barnes & Noble recently and I saw a Harvard Business Review, prominently displayed near the checkout. Whether or not I think it’s appropriate that the endcap had HBR featured alongside Playboy and Seattle Met isn’t particularly important (I don’t), but this cover caught my eye and made me SO MAD that I had to shell out $17 to buy it.

IMAG0210I was mad because of course you can fix culture. You can also break culture. Either way, culture is a changeable, “fixable,” known quality of any business. So I read the article, which itself is four superficial case studies of incoming CEOs changing culture. You can read it for yourself here if you’re so inclined. But here is the gist of it: if you want to change a business’s culture, you have to make changes to the business’s operations.


Is there some prevailing wisdom that says you can change a company’s culture without doing any work on the company’s function? I am not aware of it if so. In my MBA program, and before, when I’d read about business success and failure, no authors or experts suggested that a change could occur without making some substantive updates. Fundamentally, the HBR article agreed with everything that I know to be true. For any positive change in an organization, both management and staff need to be aligned on goals. Goals can’t be achieved without plans and steps – if I personally say “I want a red room,” then I know I will have to take steps to paint that room. Taking things off walls, patching holes, putting down drop cloths, buying paint, and painting it. Even if I say “I want to pay someone who will paint my room red” – they have to take those SAME STEPS. I can’t magically photoshop the room to be red if I want my reality to actually reflect that.

And I guess that is what some businesses try to do with culture change? (Again, I am not familiar with any case studies of businesses trying to change culture without some work.) If a lasting change or even a temporary culture change is going to occur – it needs to be reflected across processes and messages.

From my own personal history, I recall when NationsBank and Bank of America merged. The NationsBank people wanted to roll their culture of empowered decision-making and camaraderie across the country to the BoA side. BoA had recently acquired several regional banks with their own cultures as well. In essence, rather than the “merger of equals” that the deal was presented as, it was a smallish fish (NationsBank) trying to eat a conglomerate of bigger fishes. And though the change was certainly managed along the way, the leadership apparently didn’t present a unified vision of what the goals were, and it seemed instead like the patchwork was somewhat haphazard. To rein in the various independent parts, leadership became very dictatorial so they could present a performance of being a single front. (Then of course, several disastrous acquisitions happened, and culture was the least of their problems…)

Even that negative culture change happened due to operational changes. There are several great firms who consult only on change management, and YJC is not one of them. But if you’d like to talk about how to change your operations to improve your culture, shoot me an email. I’ll work with you to ensure that your operations build a culture that reflects your awesomeness.