Change the Culture First

Every organization has a unique cultural signature that identifies the organization and makes it unique from other organizations; it is the personality of an organization (Kane-Urrbazo, 2006). Culture is an organization’s reflection of the values, dominant leadership styles, language, symbols, procedures, routines, and success definitions that make a given organization unique. (Cameron & Quinn, 1999).

For many leaders, the culture of their organization is a mystery that feels elusive; many do not attempt to try and understand it, let alone guide it. Culture is the foundation of social order governing how individuals operate (Schein, 2010), which is why organizational culture is so complex (Hultman, 2001). The more employees within an organization, the more subjective the culture is, and the more variables there are to determine culture. When leaders are faced with organizational change, the preference is to focus on organizational elements such as branding, logistical changes, or aesthetic facelifts. These are things that are concrete elements a leader can clearly see, clearly make changes to, and clearly communicate changes with relative ease.

What leaders fail to realize is that an organization’s culture is a reflection of their own leadership. Ultimately, culture is created, embedded, evolved, and ultimately manipulated by leaders themselves (Schein, 2010). Or, possibly leaders do realize this, and rather than having to change themselves and the leadership they exercise, they choose to focus on more surface level changes.

Another reason why leaders may choose to focus on other areas of change is because culture is an unfolding emergent accomplishment over time through many different mediums and with many voices throughout an organization (Moffat & McLean, 2010). This, again, makes culture difficult for leaders to get a handle on and dictate change in any quick fashion, causing leaders to focus on more expedient ways to implement change.


Cameron, K. S., & Quinn, R. E. (2011). Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture: Based on the Competing Values Framework (3 edition). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Edwards, M., Penlington, C., Kalidasan, V., & Kelly, T. (2014). PROFESSIONAL ISSUES. Culture change, leadership and the grass-roots workforce. Clinical Medicine, 14(4), 342–344.

Hultman, K. (2001). Balancing Individual and Organizational Values: Walking the Tightrope to Success. Wiley.

Kane-Urrabazo, C. (2006). Management’s role in shaping organizational culture. Journal of Nursing Management, 14(3), 188–194.

Moffat, A., & McLean, A. (2010). Merger as conversation. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 31(6), 534–550.

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved from

Treviño, L. K., & Nelson, K. A. (2007). Managing business ethics: straight talk about how to do it right (4th ed). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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