How to get your management team committed to culture change

Manley Hopkinson uses the analogy of a ship’s crew to explain the importance of having every on board when working towards culture change.

If you are thinking of changing a culture, then presumably something else has already changed or needs to change? You have already had a change of direction or you are in the process of changing direction.

Either you are positively shifting your strategic focus or you are looking to get yourself out of a hole. Either way, before you even start to think about culture, you need to be absolutely clear about your strategy or vision.

It is best to go even further than that and have a defined purpose; what benefit to society would your organisation deliver if it was working at its best? This is not a strapline or a marketing slogan, but the essence of value add.

The effort spent in creating a meaningful purpose will pay dividends when it comes to getting your senior leaders on board with any cultural change – and the rest of the team too, for that matter.

You now need to make sure that everyone is acutely aware of where they are starting from and why they cannot stay there. For movement, you need to combine the forces of two motivations; motivation towards and motivation away. ‘I want to go over there and I really don’t want to stay here’. The first part is the inspiration and the second the urgency. You need both.

For movement, you need to combine the forces of two motivations; motivation towards and motivation away. “I want to go over there and I really don’t want to stay here”.

You are creating a ‘From – To’ matrix. From ‘Strategy A’ to ‘Strategy B’. Your purpose should not change unless you are undergoing a complete transformation. Your purpose sits above your strategy and provides the emotional continuity. Your culture sits beneath this and enables your strategy to be realised. It is this alignment of energy and emotion that is so powerful.

Now you have absolute clarity on the direction of travel, you need to drop down a layer and define your culture. Then your cultural shift. This decides the path you will take on this new journey – the ‘how you will behave’ that will guide you and keep you on the path.

Begin with ‘Culture A’ – today. Then focus your energy on defining what the new culture and behaviour must be to deliver ‘Strategy B’. Or, if this change is to stop poor performance, then what is the new culture required to actually deliver Strategy A?

It’s essential to look at both the good and the bad of Culture A. It can be easy to just focus on what needs to change but be wary of throwing the baby out with the bath water, as they say. Capture all the nasties, but make time to understand the brilliance too.


You will want to make sure you keep what makes you good and continue those behaviours in the new culture (only if they are aligned to the new strategy, of course!).

The next part is the hardest. Now you know where you are going and why you have to move away from where you are today, you need to work out what it looks and feels like to be living Culture B. A powerful way to do this is to project yourself forward a year or so to when you have arrived at the new great culture.

What’s it like? How does it feel? What are the stories being told? What is the leadership lexicon – what are people saying about the leadership? What are the sounds and symbols of this new world?

Now you have it – the direction, the reason and the path to take, all defined and aligned. But, and this is the critical part, none of this was done just by you. You is used in the plural and means the whole management team.

This is the most important learning – if you want your management team to be ‘on board’ with cultural change, you will need to engage them every single step of the way in defining the change required, and the reason why.

But being on board is not enough. Your team could be onboard a cruise ship and leave all the hard work to the captain – you – but that’s not going to work. You will need all your officers and all your crew to be working hard and together to take the ship to where she needs to go. You need their total commitment. By creating this new cultural journey together, you have it.

A cultural transformation is not for you to own alone. It does not belong to any one part of the management team. Cultural change does not sit with operations or sales, and it is not an HR initiative either. HR can enable and facilitate it, but the impetus and energy for the cultural shift comes from the combined and aligned effort of every single one of the management team.

Collectively and individually, the management team will either enable the cultural change, or completely disable and stop it. They could bring it all to a sudden, juddering, painful halt with a single non-aligned act, such is the senior amplification of their behaviour and intent.

“A journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step”. Having involved your management team on all the steps above, you have their commitment. Now you can start that journey together, in step, all the way, and in your everyday actions and in every word you speak, together, you will inspire the whole organisation to come along too.

Enjoy the journey, captain! Bon voyage!


About the author

Manley Hopkinson is the founder of leadership consultancy Manley Talks LTD and The Compassionate Leadership Academy, author of ‘Compassionate Leadership


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