The Importance of People in Driving Change in Workplace Culture

Last updated Jun 2, 2023
  • The success of workplace change relies on people who take ownership and commit to the process. 
  • Effective communication, active listening, and necessary support and resources are crucial for prioritizing people in change management and fostering a positive workplace culture.
  • Implementing change in the workplace can be difficult due to unclear objectives, lack of clarity in the implementation process, drastic changes, insufficient communication and training, absence of feedback, and inadequate reinforcement.
  • To successfully manage cultural change, leaders should measure current cultural values, identify gaps, form a team, create a defined budget and timeline, obtain employee support, create relevant resources, establish a support library, track progress and provide follow-up support.

As an employee in any position, you have likely experienced workplace changes due to mergers, upgrades, downsizing, acquisitions, and re-engineering. With so many changes, it is challenging for organizations and managers to stay updated, predict the future, and maintain direction. 

Change occurs on different levels – the individual, the team/organization, and the overall system. All these levels are interrelated. 

Culture is a crucial factor in change and how an organization weathers it. No one ever implemented a successful change management program by drawing up plans, implementing new technology, and listing required behaviors. Change is a people issue – not a process issue, meaning its culture.

Key Considerations for Defining Necessary Changes in Your Organization

Change is inevitable, and its impact can vary depending on the extent of the change. A few fundamental aspects need to be considered to determine the necessary change for your organization effectively.

  • Objective – Is the change to infrastructure, systems, people, or culture (in acknowledgment that with any change, culture is always involved)? In many instances, this can encompass more than one objective. 

For example, implementing a state-of-the-art information system may include changes to the financial accounting system, a new building to house the hardware, and training staff in the new processes. Such changes may require removing, modifying, or introducing new behaviors, which is where many change programs fail. Workplace change initiatives that run into problems are usually because they target resources towards building new structures, redesigning processes, and restructuring organizational units with little or no attention paid to the human element.

  • Duration – How long will the change process significantly impact the type and magnitude of resources required and the degree of uncertainty in the outcome? Will this be over a period of days or weeks, or even years? The longer the project, the greater the risk of achieving the change objectives and the more complex the people issues become. 

For example, changes in culture may require many years to complete, and key management’s tenure may also change between times.

The Role of People in Change in the Workplace

In the workplace, people play a critical role in change. The change directly affects people, whether it’s a new system or a change in the management structure. It’s vital to consider their emotions, perceptions, and behaviors during the change process. 

They are the driving force behind change, as their ideas, motivation, and behaviors initiate and sustain the change. They are the ones who bring the change to life and ensure its success. 

People are responsible for implementing change by executing plans and strategies to achieve the desired outcomes.

Active involvement of individuals in workplace change is critical as it enhances their willingness to take ownership and commitment to the change. It empowers them to participate actively in the change process, improving outcomes.

Cultivating workplace culture relies heavily on prioritizing people in change management, effectively communicating with them, actively listening to their feedback, and providing the necessary support and resources to ensure the success of the change. 

These efforts facilitate change management and build a positive and productive workplace culture.

The Connection between People, Change, and Workplace Culture

The renowned management expert Peter Drucker once said that corporate culture is even more important than strategy when it comes to organizational success.

This is because culture reflects an organization’s values and influences how employees make decisions and interact with each other. 

A strong culture creates consistency among diverse employees. While some believe that culture cannot be intentionally created, it is shaped by the founders’ actions and choices.

Ignoring the importance of culture or not establishing company values can lead to a negative culture.

The Roadblocks in Transforming Workplace Culture

A change in the workplace culture does not happen with a flick of a finger. It requires careful planning and execution. 

Leaders need to acknowledge that people within the organization are responsible for implementing the change and ensuring that they understand and support the need for it.

The following are some reasons why implementing change in the workplace can be difficult:

Employees are Unclear about the Objective of the Change

To ensure that your employees adopt changes enthusiastically, it is critical to communicate their purpose effectively and be receptive to addressing any questions or concerns. 

Without a clear explanation of why these modifications are necessary or the ability to show their necessity, there will likely remain an air of skepticism among your staff members – potentially resulting in outright rejection.

The Process of Implementing Change Lacks Clarity

Change is always challenging, and it’s impossible to anticipate that everyone will support it immediately. 

As individuals face this uncertainty, they may become anxious and have inquiries they require answered to feel secure again. They may wonder how their role has been transformed or if they possess the abilities needed for success. 

Furthermore, worries about additional work can all intertwine into a sense of insecurity until clarity arrives. Thus, assuring the transformation process is vital to ensuring those impacted are comfortable with what lies ahead.

The Implementation of Change is Drastic

Organizational culture cannot be changed abruptly like a car wheel. Drastic changes may face more resistance and can be challenging to implement. 

Gradual changes are often more effective and better received, allowing employees to adapt more smoothly.

Insufficient Communication and Training

When employees are prepared for upcoming changes, adoption becomes easier. Although there may be execution details to follow, preparing employees beforehand can ease adapting to the new changes.

Absence of Feedback

Obtaining feedback from staff is essential to evaluate the efficacy of change and discover any potential blocks they may encounter. 

If a discrepancy in understanding occurs between varying levels of an organization, it can lead to ineffective changes.

By prompting employees for their thoughts and opinions, they become more invested in the decision-making process, which will help them better comprehend what’s happening and make for a smoother transition.

Inadequate Reinforcement

Without reinforcement of new practices, sustaining change can be an uphill battle. A continuous lack of systems and processes and regular training opportunities make creating a sustainable culture shift difficult.

Practical Approaches for Managing and Leading Organizational Transformation

Leaders must take a proactive and purposeful approach to foster cultural change successfully. 

If you are looking to alter the culture of your team, division, or organization as a whole, follow these five strategies:

Measure Your Current Cultural Values Quantitatively

Effectively managing cultural change necessitates quantitatively measuring existing values, objectives, and infrastructure. 

To do so successfully requires analyzing your environment through various avenues, including employee surveys, learning metrics, assessments, and business reports.

By evaluating every part of your corporate culture from multiple angles, you can create a standard to identify how far along and how much further you need to go regarding cultural growth. 

It’s essential to consider the outlooks of internal stakeholders, such as employees and customers, and external collaborators, like sales channels, for an all-encompassing look at your company culture.

Identifying the Gaps

After evaluating your current culture, identify the gaps between where you are and where you want to be. 

Determine what changes you need to make to achieve your goals and adapt your culture accordingly. 

For example, encourage open communication and value individual talents if you want a more collaborative environment.

Form a Team for Organizational Change

Forming a team to lead the change is crucial to ensure success. 

This team should consist of representatives from each department who can work collaboratively to achieve the desired outcomes and monitor progress. Weekly meetings can be held to share updates and discuss new ideas. 

Using a project management tool can centralize communications and make the process easier.

Create a Defined Budget and Timeline for the Change Process

Make a clear plan with a budget and timeline for the changes you want to make. This will help you keep track of the costs and tasks involved. 

Work with your team to create a realistic schedule and budget, leaving room for unforeseen expenses.

Obtain Employee Support

Get your employees involved in the transformation process by gathering feedback and ideas. Avoid formulating the entire strategy without consulting them, as it will be hard to get their buy-in afterward. 

Clearly explain why you are making this shift and their role throughout the transition journey. Consider hosting a live event where everyone can interactively understand more about the plan of action and eagerly engage in it collectively.

Create Resources to Meet Specific Needs

Develop relevant and practical resources for employees by creating storyboards, identifying key takeaways, and selecting appropriate authoring tools. 

Alternatively, consider hiring an eLearning content provider, ensuring that their content is compatible with your enterprise LMS. 

The resources should apply to the real world and be designed to benefit employees the most. 

For example, simulations can be developed to teach new skills or how to apply new corporate values in the workplace.

Establish a Support Library

Provide ongoing support to employees during cultural change by offering a JIT (just-in-time) library. 

This library should contain resources that reinforce knowledge and prevent mistakes on the job. 

For example, a quick demo video can show employees how to follow new company policies after a merger. Offer diverse resources for different learning styles.

Track Progress and Provide Follow-Up Support

Keep track of progress and provide ongoing support. Monitor performance regularly and check in with employees to identify areas for improvement. 

Analyze reports from the learning management system to identify issues and provide additional training or resources as needed. 

It’s important to continuously adapt and update your training program to keep up with changes in the business and the needs of your employees. Remember, cultural transformation is an ongoing process.

Our tips to managers and executives to manage change in the workplace:

  • Improve communication – The prevailing communication system in most organizations is infrequent and one-way. In other words, people don’t get much information or feedback about how they are doing or how the organization is performing. Open up your communication channels and let your people know what, when, why, and how these changes will occur. Involve them as your main stakeholders who change will impact.
  • Acknowledge and recognize – You won’t be able to get everyone on board with the change right away. Start by targeting those who wield more influence within the organization. Make sure they are enthusiastic about the transition. If not, it’s a sign that these individuals may not be the ones you want to take part in this endeavor. Once they’ve expressed their commitment to the shift, showcase their successes and triumphs so others can receive an inspiring message of transformation and follow suit.
  • The realities of change – Instead of simply telling people about the need for change, look for ways to get them to experience firsthand why these changes are important. An example is from New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton in the 1990s, who made his top officials ride public transportation day and night so they could comprehend why citizens were afraid of taking it. Other businesses have taken a similar route by requiring managers to take calls from clients with grievances.

Final Thoughts

Change is essential to work, and people are responsible for implementing it. Leaders must prioritize their employees by creating a positive workplace culture to manage change and achieve business success. This means focusing on their needs, communicating effectively, actively listening, and providing necessary resources.

To effectively manage changes in the workplace, organizations should carefully assess their existing values and objectives to identify potential gaps. 

Moreover, having practical resources readily available and offering ongoing support with tracking progress is essential for businesses to meet their desired outcomes without disrupting their stakeholders.

How has your organization managed change in the past? Did you find workplace culture plays a role in those changes?


Malhotra, S. L. N. (n.d.). Challenges of Organizational Culture Change. 

McConnell, B. (2022). How To Change Organizational Culture In 8 Easy Steps. eLearning Industry. 

By: Curran Daly + Associates


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