An Opportunity at Hand, Seize the Day: The Long View

Culture change can be a massive undertaking yet a hugely rewarding endeavor for all involved. We therefore encourage Senior leaders to intentionally and strategically measure and redirect their organization’s culture. Positive change won’t happen overnight but can take shape slowly and surely.

Part Three of a Three-Part Series

The following case studies and culture profiles focus on real organizations whose leaders tackled culture change with our guidance.


Auto Supply Chain Manufacturing Plant

Our first case is that of a manufacturing client executing a strategic imperative to create a culture that supports the production of high-quality products and provides a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining employees. 

auto supply 2010     auto_supply_2012 
 Time 1      Time 2


The Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) and Organizational Effectiveness Inventory® (OEI®) were used to conduct the initial cultural assessment.1, 2 The OCI revealed an overly aggressive culture where employees were expected to point out flaws, stay detached and objective, and outperform peers. Data from the OEI were used to prioritize weaknesses to be addressed—which included employees’ understanding of the organization’s mission and goals, a lack of job variety and autonomy, and hiring, training, and employee involvement processes.

The entire leadership team completed development programs that included feedback from the Life Styles Inventory™ (LSI) to shift behaviors and modules for improving leadership skills. Members of the team were provided with immediate opportunities to implement their behavior change plans and apply their new skills—as they collaborated in activities to improve human resource processes and engaged employees in innovative efforts to increase operational performance.3

Their success in developing themselves, initiating changes, and improving the culture is clearly reflected in the OCI profiles shown above. Over a two-year period, the Aggressive/Defensive norms that dominated the culture were effectively suppressed as more Constructive norms took hold. Specifically, this client increased quality and timeliness, achieving the customer’s contracted quality and production expectations. They also decreased turnover by 45% and qualitatively experienced increased ease of hiring new employees.

High Reliability Organization

Another example of successful culture change is provided by a high reliability organization that was performing at the lowest decile when compared to its peer organizations around the world. The new Chief Executive Officer decided to sponsor a performance improvement and culture change initiative. The first step was to conduct a culture assessment using the OCI. This allowed members of the organization to see what behaviors were expected at the time and to compare the then-current culture to an industry ideal. The culture survey revealed that the operating culture was fear-based and Passive/Defensive, creating a setting in which employees were reluctant to challenge the status-quo and take initiative to improve performance.

The entire leadership team participated in immersive workshops to help them align behaviors with the ideal and build their management skills. The leaders implemented personal action plans that included participation in organization-wide process improvement efforts and leading employee engagement activities for improving team and department performance. As shown in the profiles below, they greatly strengthened Constructive norms and reduced implicit and explicit expectations for Passive/Defensive behaviors. While Oppositional norms remained dominant, the stronger expectations for Self-Actualization and Humanistic behaviors tempered their impact and led to more effective problem solving around reliability and performance.

high reliability 2010     high reliability 2013 
 Time 1      Time 2


Lowest Performing Department transformation to Best Performing Department

This example focuses on the worst performing department of the above client organization at the onset of the performance improvement and culture change initiative. This department was fraught with employee management issues, low productivity, and human errors. The unit’s 2010 culture profile was very consistent with that of the larger organization and its 2013 profile showed similar improvements. Over the course of the three years, the department transformed into the top performing unit with highly engaged employees who collaborated with management to contribute thought leadership and innovation for the entire industry. Productivity gains allowed the organization to significantly reduce the size and expense of its supplemental contract workforce.

lowest performing t1     lowest performing t2 
 Time 1      Time 2


Northeast US Utility

The newly appointed President came onboard when the entire industry faced significant challenges from aging infrastructure, climate change, technology transformation, and growing customer demands. Further, the President inherited an organization with third quartile performance compared to its industry peers. Shortly after coming to the organization, he decided to pursue a strategic effort to improve its performance and transform its culture. Using the OCI, it was determined that the organization had a strong and deeply embedded Aggressive/ and Passive/Defensive culture.

Initially, the President sponsored immersive leadership development programs to unfreeze the senior leadership team from the past culture and practices and put them on a path of change. The path included shifting their behaviors and leading efforts to improve performance. The initiative soon expanded and cascaded to all management and frontline employees. The leaders and employees immediately applied new skills and behavior change action plans to organization-wide process improvement and department and team development efforts. The organization utilized the LSI to help all employees align their behavior with the desired culture and Management/Impact® feedback to assist leaders in shifting their management styles and approaches and, in turn, supporting employees in developing more Constructive thinking and behavioral styles.4

The Utility has achieved and sustained top quartile and, in many aspects, top decile performance relative to its peers. An excellent and very relevant article on the system is provided here.5 They achieved a 13% year-over-year increase in net income, 18% increase in customer satisfaction, a 30% increase in reliability, and a 40% improvement in Operations & Maintenance (O & M) efficiency while maintaining lower than average customer rates. The Utility has received numerous performance, innovation, and customer service awards over the past few years.

ne utility 2010     ne utility 2015 
 Time 1      Time 2


Setting out to change your culture often involves taking the long view and we can help your leadership team gain clarity on and execute the key steps for this important journey. You are welcome to contact us through Human Synergistics; we are long-term accredited practitioners in their suite of assessments. Or contact us directly at Ephektiv.



1 Cooke, R. A. & Lafferty, J. C. (1987). Organizational Culture Inventory®. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

2 Cooke, R. A. (1995). Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®. Arlington Heights, IL: Human Synergistics/Center for Applied Research.

3 Lafferty, J. C. (1973). Life Styles Inventory™. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

4 Szumal, J. L. & Cooke, R. A. (2008). Management/Impact®. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics International.

5 Chwalowski, M. Ph.D. (2006). Condemned to the Fourth Quartile?

An Opportunity at Hand, Seize the Day: Measuring and Shifting Culture

Part Two of a Three-Part Series

In Part One of this three-part series, we discussed how the workplace and organizational culture need to shift to attract and retain workers as we move on from the pandemic. We described how culture is a force-multiplier in building a workplace where employees will be motivated to innovate, achieve, and remain with an employer–effectively responding to the “Great Resignation” challenges. Further, we established the case for a culture that promotes four conditions that encourage intrinsic motivation: Meaningful Condition, Learning Condition, Human Condition, and Autonomous Condition. Organizations that develop a culture that supports these Conditions will have a competitive edge in attracting and retaining employees and promoting the teamwork, inclusion, and innovation necessary to execute strategy.

Here, in Part Two, we will address the question, “Can an organization measure how its culture encourages and reinforces behaviors that promote the conditions mentioned above?” Secondly, we will provide an overview of the fundamental principles behind the strategy we have used to help several organizations shift their culture and improve performance. 

Understanding Behavior

Fortunately, we can measure culture, especially in terms of the behaviors that are being promoted across the enterprise. Our diagnostic tool of choice is the Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) from Human Synergistics International, which enables us to measure an organization’s current operating culture and define an optimal culture to help it meet its strategic challenges.1 In addition to using the OCI across a broad spectrum of companies, we have facilitated or conducted over 7000 interviews with North American and European employees from all organizational levels inquiring into what produces their “Best, Most Effective, and Safest” work experiences. We have discovered that the behavioral norms, actions, and conditions driving intrinsic motivation, high achievement, engagement, and innovation can be measured and fall within the OCI’s Constructive Styles. The OCI provides a clear image and behavioral landscape of an organization’s culture. 

In addition to understanding which behaviors are expected and rewarded across the organization, it is essential to understand the effectiveness of its core HR, strategic-planning and goal-setting, and communication systems. Additionally, insights into employees’ understanding and commitment to the organization’s direction and the degree to which they can influence team goals and their work are essential in crafting a culture and work environment that will be attractive and engaging. The quality of people systems, the characteristics of jobs, the clarity of (and members’ commitment to) goals, and participative structures contribute to the overall employee experience and provide organizational levers for improving culture.

Can these levers be measured? Yes, they can.

The Organizational Effectiveness Inventory® (OEI) is an effective tool for measuring the climatic factors that determine organizational effectiveness.2 Additionally, correlative data from the OEI and OCI provide insight into which of these factors contribute to, and can be used as levers to change  behavioral norms across the organization. 

Executives can administer the Current form of the OCI to develop a clear and tangible picture of the behaviors being promoted within their organizations—more specifically, the relative degree to which Constructive rather than Defensive behaviors are expected. They can use the Ideal form of the OCI to create a tangible picture of the optimal behaviors that will support strategy execution and a culture that will attract and retain employees. Adding the OEI, leaders will round out the data necessary for developing plans to shift, strengthen, and/or reinforce a culture that will help create an engaging, inclusive, innovative, and high-achievement work environment.  

Shifting Culture

The data gained in an initial organizational culture assessment provides an understanding of the current operating culture, the optimal culture required to succeed, the climatic factors that can be used to shift culture, and a basis to measure progress.

Next, we will explore the fundamental principles behind our change strategies to help organizations act on these data, shift culture, and improve performance. 

These five principles are essential in crafting a culture change improvement effort. They are listed in order of importance.

  1. Executive Sponsorship
  2. Integrating Culture Change with Organizational Performance Improvement
  3. Leadership Behavioral Alignment and Skill Development
  4. Employee Involvement
  5. Aligning HR, Goal Setting, and Communication Systems

1. Executive Sponsorship

Most importantly, strong Senior Executive sponsorship and personal involvement are necessary to achieve a culture shift. Culture change is a long-term strategic endeavor that requires: a significant commitment of executives’ time; commitment to funding over several years; a willingness to address difficult leadership personnel decisions; and personal investment in openly shifting one’s behavior. Lacking this type of sponsorship, organizations best not pursue a culture shift, as it will likely be unsuccessful.

Some executives want to believe an embedded culture can be made to shift in a short period of several quarters. That is not the case. First, an executive cannot force a culture to shift without taking actions that could potentially drive a fear-based culture. However, they can facilitate a positive shift in culture through engagement of the employees in solving problems with a different approach that reflects the desired culture. Second, short of the near-death of the organization, it can take several years to unfreeze and shift an embedded organizational culture and then several more years to reinforce the emerging culture. Shifting a well-rooted culture requires a commitment to a 5-to-7-year process or more. Fortunately, depending on the breadth of the investment executives are willing to make, they will likely see significant progress and organizational performance improvement in the first two years. Finally, for culture change to be successful, it needs to be integrated with organizational improvement efforts directly linked to vision and strategy. This strategic linkage, sponsorship of the culture change effort, and oversight of the change process are the responsibility of (and are under the control of) executive leadership.

2. Integrate Changing Culture with Organizational Performance Improvement

Pursuing a change effort focused singularly on shifting culture seldom produces a lasting culture change. Typically, culture is defined as how we approach solving organizational challenges, how we carry out our work, and how we treat people. When leaders shift their approach to engaging and treating employees positively as they solve business challenges, it sends a strong message about “how we do things around here.” When that change in approach produces the desired business outcomes and is reinforced over time, employees adopt the new approach going forward. Solving business challenges intrinsically motivates people to engage in the culture change effort, and achievement strengthens the new approaches. Additionally, improvements in organizational performance provide executives justification for the investment required to plan and facilitate the culture shift.

Integrating culture change with organizational performance improvement leads us back to the first principle – Executive Sponsorship. Executives need to define and prioritize strategically important performance challenges or opportunities that become the focus of the new approaches to problem solving. Additionally, they need to define and set clear expectations for the approaches they want to use going forward and then visibly model the way. As the preferred approach to address performance gaps and new business opportunities is adopted, executives need to provide sponsorship, support, cover, and visible rewards for those who take the lead and participate in pioneering the “new” way.

For our clients who have achieved significant shifts in culture and organizational performance, the strategic challenges have focused on such issues as safety, reliability, costs, quality, and attracting workers. Some have realized a shift from bottom fourth quartile industrial or nuclear safety to top first quartile performance. Others have moved from the fourth quartile to top decile performance in reliability while keeping customer costs lower than the average costs of their peer groups. Manufacturing customers have achieved significant improvements in manufacturing quality and efficiency as they created a work environment that provided them a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining workers. In each of these cases, the long-term commitment and support from the most senior executive provided the necessary direction and motivation to achieve organizational performance improvement and a culture shift.

3. Leadership Behavioral Alignment and Skill Development

Culture change needs to begin with a behavioral shift across the executive team and then cascade down to upper, middle, and frontline leaders. Typically, leaders who have risen to the top positions have either participated in creating the current culture or have learned to use the operating culture to enhance their success. In either case, these leaders have an unconscious or, for many, a conscious vested interest in maintaining the current culture. This vested interest presents the most significant challenge to executives who wish to pursue a shift in their operating culture. When initiating a culture change, the first focus of the Sponsoring Executive(s) is to align personal behaviors with the Constructive styles, becoming a role model for the rest of the leaders. The more transparent executives are in changing individual behaviors and building skills to lead differently, the more credibility they will have in the eyes of other leaders and the employees.

Once the Sponsoring Executives are on a journey to align behavior and build skills, they need to quickly engage the entire executive and senior leadership team in a behavioral and skill development process. The executives need courage and tenacity to motivate changes among the upper and middle-level leaders and provide accountability for those who resist or move too slowly in making personal change. 

Given that what leaders role model, teach, and reinforce are the most impactful drivers of culture change, successful change initiatives need to include extensive leadership development. 

The leadership development process needs to be immersive and completed in a short time frame—months, not years. An intense, immersive, and contracted development process creates the energy required to unlock the current culture’s grip on the senior leadership team, enabling them to adopt, promote, and model the new culture effectively. Employees watch how the most senior executive treats other senior and middle managers, taking cues about how safe it is to engage and adopt the desired culture. The Executive leader also needs to respectfully support senior team members who elect to opt out of their leadership roles rather than make the necessary changes. And through respectful accountability measures, the executive will need to remove the leaders who resist or move too slowly in making the required changes in their behaviors. Failure to act quickly in addressing senior leaders who are not aligned with the desired culture is a sure way to undermine change efforts and make it difficult to recover and reengage a workforce in pursuit of the optimal culture. 

Our typical culture change efforts include leadership development processes that focus on understanding and shifting behavioral patterns, including changing how leaders approach their core leadership responsibilities. Developing skills to manage people differently, coaching for behavior change, and engaging employees in innovating solutions to organization challenges are integrated with modules to help shift behavior. It’s essential to have leaders immediately apply their new behavioral approaches and skills to engage employees in improving organizational performance aligned with the strategy laid out by the executives. The immediate application effectively demonstrates how the “new way” of working results in success, reinforcing the desired Constructive culture

Our development programs utilize two behavioral-based tools from the Human Synergistics’ suite of instruments to help leaders understand and shift their personal behavioral and thinking patterns and leadership approaches. Initial leadership development programs incorporate the Life Styles Inventory™ (LSI) to help leaders see how their behavioral styles align with the same 12 norms the OCI utilizes to assess the current culture and define the optimal culture. Together, the OCI and LSI provide an integrated platform and language for exploring, discussing, and aligning personal behavior and culture. 

Once the leaders are on a development path to shift behaviors, we utilize the Leadership/Impact® (L/I) or Management/Impact (M/I) surveys to give each of them feedback in three areas: their overall leadership effectiveness; the behaviors (approaches) they use to fulfill their core leadership responsibilities; and the behaviors they motivate on the part of their associates and teams.4, 5 The Impact surveys provided team-based data that shows leaders the degree to which their approach to leadership drives employee behaviors that perpetuate the current culture or promote the desired culture. 

The information generated by the Impact surveys are invaluable in two ways throughout culture change efforts. First, the Impact surveys provide data that help leaders create individual plans to shift the approach they use to manage people and address business challenges—reinforcing a primary driver of culture change. Second, teams are the underlying social groupings in which culture forms and transformation begins. The overall organizational culture will follow when a critical mass of teams shifts their approach to solving business challenges and achieving success. The Impact surveys show the types of behaviors that are being motivated and exhibited within each leader’s team. When leaders change their approach to their responsibilities and apply the changes to address challenges, parallel changes evolve in their team members’ behaviors and interactions. Reinforcing the transition and using the new approaches across a critical mass of teams result in organizational culture change.

The initial administration of the LSI and Impact surveys provides a baseline for the leaders, helping them fine-tune their development plans. Further, it helps them target shortcomings in their effectiveness and gaps in how they approach specific leadership responsibilities. The Impact surveys provide data about where in the organization there are leadership skills and knowledge gaps, allowing for more targeted leadership development programs. Periodically administering the LSI and Impact surveys throughout a culture change effort provides valuable feedback on each leader’s progress and helps to refine further leadership development efforts.

4. Employee Engagement

Our case studies (coming soon in Part Three) make a clear case that a change in organizational culture is achieved when a critical mass of members shift their approach to solving business challenges or capturing new opportunities. Leaders facilitate this change by using new and different approaches to involve their employees in improving organizational performance. Therefore, successful culture change is dependent on, first, gaining employee engagement in the effort and, ultimately, their shift in behaviors used in the course of carrying out their work and interacting with each other. It is important to note that employees are intrinsically motivated to make a difference, achieve, and learn. When leaders create a safe environment for employees to engage in the culture change effort and focus on solving organizational challenges, they tap into this intrinsic motivation, increasing the likelihood of achieving the desired culture. 

Depending on the strength of the current culture, employees may elect to engage in a new approach to achieving success quickly, or they may become defensive, creating barriers to achieving the desired culture. The OCI not only shows whether culture norms are Constructive or Defensive but also the intensity or strength of the culture in terms of the agreement (or lack thereof) among members with respect to what’s expected. Low intensity (weak) cultures allow for a broader variance in employee behavior, and employees are generally more open to trying new approaches to their work. It is more challenging to motivate employee behavioral changes in moderately or strongly embedded cultures. 

We have achieved success in strong, deeply embedded cultures when deploying organization-wide employee development programs by “unfreezing” the frontline from the current culture and engaging them in shifting the culture. Our programs have achieved success when the employee engagement and development sessions focus primarily on four areas at the team/department level: building a vision; facilitating activities to help employees let go of the past; increasing awareness of current personal behavioral pattern; and immediate engaging employees in closing performance gaps or capitalizing on new team- or department-level opportunities. 

Vision – Sharing and then engaging employees in further development of a team or department vision provides them with a tangible picture of the desired business goals and the expected behaviors to be used in pursuit of the future. Additionally, vision building provides employees motivation for engaging in activities to improve the business and shift the culture.

Letting Go – Employees will be reluctant to engage in visioning or activities to shift the culture if the impacts of the past culture are not acknowledged. Facilitating a letting go of the past includes recognizing the effects of the past culture and an invitation to try different approaches for accomplishing work going forward. Having a chance to articulate and receive acknowledgment of the emotional impacts experienced from the past culture and seeing new possibilities helps employees let go and engage in creating the future. Beware, this type of activity requires unwavering executive sponsorship and the participation of leaders with significant emotional intelligence. 

Behavioral Awareness – Focusing on behaviors and creating personalized plans during employee development and engagement programs provides the basis for a new approach to work and solving problems. Here we use the Life Styles Inventory to create awareness of individual behavioral patterns and help facilitate behavioral change across frontline workers. The LSI includes data that assists the employees in seeing their behavioral patterns and creating an action plan to shift and align behaviors. Further, the feedback report and guide provide a common language to discuss workplace behaviors and, ultimately, organizational culture. 

Immediate Application to Improving Performance – The fourth area is where culture change manifests itself. Culture change begins to take hold when employees are engaged to apply their learning immediately—to develop behavioral action plans and design team/department performance improvement activities that are aligned with organizational strategy. Engaging employees in solving problems that help meet organizational goals is critical to realizing the desired culture change. Such change is further supported by leaders’ providing immediate and ongoing reinforcement of the new approaches in problem solving.

5. Align HR, Goal Setting, and Communication Systems and Structures

Over time the culture influences and is influenced by human resource management, goal setting, and communications systems and structures. The systems, structures, and culture continuously harmonize to perpetuate the status quo. Once executives have defined the desired culture and engaged the workforce in behavioral change and performance improvement efforts, they need to align the organization’s systems (e.g., performance appraisal and reward systems) and structures (e.g., employee involvement) to facilitate and support the desired state rather than perpetuate the current culture. Misaligned systems and structures create obstacles that employees must overcome as they pursue a different approach to achieving organizational goals. These barriers will wear employees down as they engage in the change effort, resulting in many of them giving up on pursuing the desired culture. Worse yet, it contributes to cynicism and skepticism, jeopardizing their future commitment to engaging in change efforts.

Aligning the systems begins with understanding how the current systems support or undermine the preferred culture. As discussed above, we administer the OEI–a “climate” survey fully integrated with the OCI. The feedback creates a seamless picture of the current culture and the drivers shaping the culture—which can be shared with employees at the department or team level. OEI reports for subunits provides data on how organizational structures, systems, social technologies, and skills shape the current culture (and possibly the subcultures) of departments. Change teams can identify which of these levers need to be modified locally to support the desired culture. With the information provided by the OEI, executives can sponsor change efforts across the organization to align the systems and structures that will promote the desired culture. 

In our experience, we have seen executives limit their culture change efforts to shifting systems and structure, and doing so only from the top, resulting in little or no change in the underlying culture. The adage that the culture eats strategy for lunch applies here as well. The current culture can render changes in systems and structures ineffective, creating confusion and adding to employee cynicism. It is best to use an open systems approach, integrating systems and structure changes at all levels of the organization with strategy, performance improvement, leadership development, behavioral change, and employee engagement. Strong, long-term executive sponsorship and oversight are necessary to achieve this required level of integration, significantly enhancing a successful outcome.

Moving Forward

Seldom have leaders been provided an inflection point at which they can boost their performance and create a high-performance culture that will attract and retain the talent required to succeed. If your leadership team would like to delineate key next steps to embark on a development journey, we invite you to try out two unique programs as conversation openers: the OCI-Ideal Preview or the Culture Mirror™. The Preview will allow you to experience a subset of questions from the widely respected OCI-Ideal and receive an abbreviated feedback report (complimentary). The goal of the Culture Mirror is to help leaders leverage the pandemic crisis and/or its aftermath for learning opportunities on where improvements can be made. They can do so using the OCI-Ideal Preview for real-time feedback to reflect, measure, and refine plans now to adapt and emerge with success. Feel free to contact us through Human Synergistics—we are accredited practitioners in their suite of assessments. Or contact us directly at Ephektiv.

Longing for the past or maintaining the status quo will contribute to an ineffective reactive response to where organizations are as they transition through today’s challenges. Checkout Part Three that will showcase the impact leaders can have. The chance to act and strategically create the future is upon us. Carpe diem!



1 Cooke, R. A. & Lafferty, J. C. (1987). Organizational Culture Inventory®. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

2 Cooke, R. A. (1995). Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®. Arlington Heights, IL: Human Synergistics/Center for Applied Research

3 Lafferty, J. C. (1973). Life Styles Inventory™. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

4 Cooke, R. A. (1996). Leadership/Impact® (L/I). Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

5 Szumal, J. L. & Cooke, R. A. (2008). Management/Impact®. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics International.

An Opportunity at Hand, Seize the Day

Part One of a Three-Part Series

Rarely are organizational leaders presented with an inflection point where they have an opportunity to shape the future of their organization’s workplace consciously. One such opportunity is in front of Executives as the pandemic evolves and “return to work” efforts unfold. As this transition happens, a new model for work will emerge right before them. Whether they consciously shape their organization’s work environment into a competitive advantage, let it develop as it will, or attempt to force it back to its former state is a choice every Executive faces. Which will it be? 

Will the “Great Resignation” continue? What will it take to retain your employees or attract new talent? How will a new hybrid work arrangement unfold? How can you increase innovation and employee ownership to meet the competitive demands of the marketplace? These and many other challenges will require leaders to engage their employees and initiate a strategic effort to rethink work and the workplace culture. 

Some leaders will hope the workplace returns to what it was, blaming employees for not being loyal as they depart. Others will proactively take an in-depth look at work design, goal setting, people systems, and, importantly, the culture. They will check to see if the purpose and mission of the organization inspire people. The strategic-minded leaders will check to see if human resource systems support the changing interests and needs of their employees. And they will want to know if the current organizational culture promotes dignity, respect, and inclusion so each employee can fully contribute and develop themselves.

The timing is perfect for a strategic-level conversation to ensure the organization’s mission and purpose inspire employees to achieve. And there is an opportunity to engage in a strategic discussion about the future workplace (including the goal setting and people systems) and to look at the organization’s current and the optimal future culture. Compensation will likely remain an issue for a while, but the “force-multiplier” for attracting and retaining employees will be the work setting and culture over the long haul. 

Given the importance of culture, strategic discussions need to include a formal assessment of the organization’s current culture to see if it supports operational and business outcomes—such as innovation, customer service, teamwork, talent attraction and retention, employee engagement, and an effective hybrid workplace. Employees are emerging from the “Great Reflection.” They have had time to reflect on what they want in their lives and from work. The organizational assessment needs to look at how well the current culture and work climate support the present-day needs of employees as the pandemic evolves.

“The timing is perfect for a strategic-level conversation to ensure the organization’s mission and purpose inspire employees to achieve.” –Madeline Marquardt

Finally, leaders must determine whether their organization’s culture promotes intrinsic motivation – the unspoken attractor for employees. In the end, culture will be the force that balances the compensation issues at hand and creates a competitive advantage.  

Some leaders will react to the current employee and workplace situation by implementing changes in structures and human resource systems without regard to the type of culture required to meet employee and business demands. They will likely fail in these efforts. Already we are seeing early attempts by businesses to force employees back to work by using arcane tactics for “taking roll” with electronic badging records. The media has reported on financial institutions monitoring badging records, which have created fear-based work environments. Experience proves that such fear-based environments decrease innovation, quality, and accountability. Looking at the bigger picture, one can see the need for more in-depth strategic level conversations, producing improvement strategies that address organizational and employee needs and foster the development of a constructive culture. 

The leader’s job is to create a workplace where employees want to come, contribute, and stay. We are at an inflection point. Will you seize the day? Carpe diem, the moment is here!

The Type of Culture Matters

As noted above, over the long term, the work setting and culture will be the “force-multiplier” for successfully navigating the workforce transition as businesses learn how to thrive in the Covid (and post-pandemic) environment and effectively respond to shifting employee workplace needs. Developing a culture that promotes personal intrinsic motivators will give employers a competitive advantage in retracting and retaining employees and is equally essential in adapting and innovating to meet the current marketplace demands. Richard Ryan, PhD., sums it up with, “We’re interested in what we would call high-quality motivation when people can be wholeheartedly engaged in something and have both their best experience and their best performance.” The quality of the culture will matter.

Over time, we have seen four broad intrinsic motivators that are always present when employees have their best experiences and produce exceptional results. More generally, we have found that companies achieve and sustain high levels of performance when their cultures support and reinforce behaviors that promote four conditions: Meaningful Condition, Learning Condition, Human Condition, and Autonomous Condition. These motivators are influenced by and consistent with Ryan and Deci’s Self Determination Theory1 and the Key Dimensions of Meaningful Work as defined by Marela and Pessi2. The Four Conditions also encompass Abraham Maslow’s3 and Carl Roger’s4 Actualization Theories.

Meaningful Condition – encompasses an environment where individuals can see their work as making a difference or they find the work is personally meaningful in some way. Making a difference involves objectively significant work and contributes to the goals of the team or organization. Personally, meaningful work impacts the individual emotionally. They perceive the work as serving human, and customer needs or in some way contributing to a broader societal purpose. Employees find such work personally appealing, other-oriented, and a contribution to something larger than themselves.

Learning Condition – addresses the human drive to know and satisfy one’s curiosity. Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and many other researchers found that people naturally seek and thrive on opportunities to learn and develop themselves when in a supportive environment. Recent organizational theory references becoming a Learning Organization, but this seldom addresses the personal-needs level where intrinsic motivation plays out. Instead, it will require organizations to promote behavioral expectations and people systems that support employees in pursuing learning, growth, and mastery. The resulting culture will create a highly attractive environment for members. 

Human Condition – addressed by organizations that develop cultural norms and expectations for including their employees, respecting individuals, building teams, supporting each other, and treating each other with civility. When the culture creates a respectful environment, employees feel safe, take reasonable risks, learn from mistakes, fully contribute, and offer creative ideas. This environment motivates people to reach out and typically includes a diverse group of people to develop innovative solutions.

Autonomous Condition – addresses people’s need to have some degree of control or influence over what they do and how they go about their tasks and projects. Research shows that employees are motivated when they operate from an inner directiveness and experience autonomy. Organizations promote autonomy by means of behavioral expectations for employees to offer ideas about what work to do, how to go about their work, and who to work with.

Bringing Strategy and Culture Together

To what degree does your organizational culture promote the four intrinsic motivators? If it does so not at all, will you lack a competitive advantage to attract and retain employees and innovate solutions to meet an evolving marketplace? If, to some degree, it does promote the four intrinsic motivators, do you know how it does so and how to encourage even more of the necessary behaviors? The good news is we can measure organizational culture and climate. Readied with data from a valid assessment of their organization’s current culture, executives can engage in a strategic level conversation to promote a culture that will retain and attract talent in this competitive environment and foster much-needed innovation. 

In Part Two of this series, we share the fundamental principles behind our change strategies that can help organizations shift culture and improve performance. If you’re interested in having a positive impact on your organization or those you serve (as a consultant), you’ll find value in the approach we bring to light in Part Two. It’s the same approach we’ve applied across a broad spectrum of companies to determine how their organizational cultures can be redirected to encourage and reinforce behaviors that intrinsically motivate employees to pursue excellence, continuous improvement, innovation, learning, and teamwork.

As specialists in strategy, we have used scientifically based, valid, and reliable assessments for more than twenty years to measure an organization’s current operating culture and define an optimal culture to help meet its strategic challenges. If you feel this type of approach can help your leadership team gain clarity on key next steps and to embark on a development journey, we welcome a conversation. Feel free to contact us through Human Synergistics; we are long-term accredited practitioners in their suite of assessments. Or contact us directly at Ephektiv.



1 Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist. Vol. 55, No. 1, 68-78.

2 Martela, F. & Pessi, A. B. (2018). Significant Work Is About Self-Realization and Broader Purpose: Defining the Key Dimensions of Meaningful Work. Frontiers in Psychology.

3 Maslow, A. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396. 

4 Rogers, C. (1970). On Becoming a Person. Houghton Mifflin/Sentry Edition, 1970.

Leading Culture Change in a Legacy Organization

Are you leading culture change, or are you just talking about it?

Long-overdue recognition of the role that culture plays in organizational performance is resonating across business and governmental entities. However, close examination reveals most of the conversations about the need to improve organizational culture remain just that.

Few organizations readily initiate actions to undertake a comprehensive effort aimed at shifting to a culture that would better serve the organization in addressing performance challenges or a shift in strategy.

Change Leaders or Change Leaders

When it comes to leading a culture change effort, there is an axiom that sums up the challenge facing leaders of an organization with a limiting legacy culture: “Change leaders or change leaders.” It is the reality that we have seen play out time and again in organizations that have successfully shifted their culture. Senior leaders, by the definition of their role, give form to an organization, including its culture

Culture begins with and is shaped by the behavior of the senior leaders. In mature organizations, the leaders have been influenced by the current culture as much as they have given shape to it, and they currently benefit from perpetuating the current culture. They are masters of the current culture; it is merely in their immediate personal best interest to maintain it. And therein lies the challenge for executive leaders. 

Leading culture change starts at the top

Leading a shift in culture is a counterintuitive action that is threatening to many senior leaders. This mostly unacknowledged threat is a primary contributing factor to a lack of action, weak sponsorship, and low commitment to champion a long-term initiative focused on shifting culture. The aforementioned is true even when a change in culture is necessary to support a shift in strategy to one that better meets marketplace demands.

Case in point: We continuously encounter organizations desiring to evolve from being a laggard in the digitization of business into a leader in this realm, knowing their ultimate success in a disruptive marketplace is dependent on this shift. While some believe they can achieve success by installing the best digital technology, others know they will likely not accomplish this transformation without fundamentally shifting their legacy culture..

Conversations with leaders in this situation will produce affirmation for the need to shift culture, yet few take action to do so. Why is this?

A Critical Obstacle: The Current Culture Serves the Top Leaders

Starting an initiative to shift culture is nothing to take lightly, especially in well-established organizations. It is hard work, necessitates strong executive sponsorship and commitment, requires significant resources over time, and takes a relatively long time to accomplish. More importantly—as discussed above—the current culture fits and serves the top leadership quite well.

Leaders most likely know this at an intuitive level, if not at a conscious level. It takes a courageous and highly self-aware senior leader to sponsor and lead a shift in culture across a legacy organization, whereas a recently hired executive leader who is not hindered by the legacy culture may find it easier to sponsor a culture change initiative.

In either case, the rest of the senior team and middle managers are not likely to embrace the desired shift in culture. They may give “good face” to the effort, but in reality, they will “slow walk” or subvert the change effort.

Keep in mind that the current culture works for them. They have mastered it to get into the positions they hold, and their desires for the future depend on it.

Begin with the Hard Conversation

Having the difficult conversation addressing the crucial role senior and middle-level managers play in leading culture change—and the need for them to fundamentally change behavior and the way they manage—is a critical first step in kicking off a culture change initiative.

An honest and straightforward conversation about this topic opens the door for developing sponsorship and a change strategy that has a realistic chance of success. With the proverbial “elephant in the room” out in the open, the sponsor can move on to develop a plan that has the right blend of helping leaders to change or changing leaders.

Depending on the sense of urgency needed in response to marketplace demands, experience has shown there is a decreased negative impact on an organization when the change strategy begins with a sincere effort to support senior and middle managers in changing their behaviors and styles. However, the change strategy needs to have accountability for shifting behaviors baked into it, and it needs to include elements for recruiting and promoting new leaders and displacing those who are unwilling or unable to make a timely change.

A shift in organizational strategy may require new or enhanced technical or business competencies across the leadership team, and this needs to be considered when choosing to help leaders to change or change leaders.

Focus on a Mix of Behavior Change, Coaching, and Skill Development

When developing a plan to help leaders change their behaviors and leadership styles in support of changing the culture, a comprehensive approach should include behavioral-based assessments, coaching, and skill development. The current leaders need to have a clear picture of their behavioral patterns, the approaches they use in carrying out their responsibilities, and the impact their behaviors and styles are having on employees. It should also include feedback showing the types of behaviors the leaders are motivating in their employees.

The Human Synergistics suite of 360 degree feedback assessments for leaders and managers, including the Life Styles Inventory™, Leadership/Impact®, and Management Impact®, provide excellent behavioral-based feedback and guidance to help leaders shift the behaviors and approaches they use in managing people. Leaders will often have basic leadership skill and knowledge gaps left unaddressed because they were not needed in the past operating culture.

The leadership development plan should support leaders in acquiring the skills and knowledge required to model the desired behaviors and approaches that will produce a shift in the culture. The development program should provide personal coaching to those who need assistance. As far as an overall approach to coaching leaders, our experience has shown peer-to-peer coaching to be highly effective in supporting changes in leadership behavior and style, and we highly recommend it to our clients.

Integrate Leadership Development and Performance Improvement

Given the fact that employees take their cues from leaders and are impacted by their approaches, each leader’s development plan needs to be transparent and tied to solving real organizational challenges. Paraphrasing a few quotes from Edgar Schein, “Cultures are built through shared learning and mutual experiences in solving problems.”

Integrating leadership development plans into efforts focused on solving performance challenges provides a clear message to employees about “how things are going to be done around here,” especially when the problem is successfully addressed. Finally, monitoring progress and taking timely action to replace leaders who are not progressing or demonstrating the desire to make the necessary shift in behaviors and leadership styles is an essential element of the overall leadership development strategy. Keep in mind the accountability responses need to be aligned with and model the desired culture.

In the current era of continuous disruption and exponential change in the business world, organizational leaders will experience a greater need to align culture in support of shifting business strategies.

When deciding to sponsor an initiative to change the culture, openly addressing the need to “Change Leaders or Change Leaders” early in the process will help them overcome one of the biggest obstacles that hinders a successful, timely shift in culture. Once it is on the table, leaders can develop and proceed with a more effective plan for leading the culture change their legacy organization needs.

Human Synergistics is expert at helping leaders through cultural change. Contact us today to learn how we can help.