Unlocking culture change through questions


We all know that organizational change is difficult. Of all the forms of transformation, the most challenging is unquestionably culture change. According to research from the Wharton School of Business, the failure rate of culture change initiatives hovers around 80% (as defined by change projects that don’t achieve the stated goals of transformation).

One of the reasons culture change is so confounding is that it is totally resistant to traditional, top-down, command and control approaches which have become short hand for management. For this reason, unlocking culture change is often more effective by focusing on the right questions, rather than coming up with the correct answers.

Here are a few to get you started:

  1. What would happen here that wouldn’t happen anywhere else? The first step in changing a culture is to define it, and this is often best done by identifying stories or scenes that are unique to an organization.
  2. How does our culture support or hinder our strategic goals? It’s more effective to focus on a problem and understand how culture is influencing it, rather than trying to change culture directly.
  3. How does the story of who we are fit with the story of where we’re going? We are creatures of habit, so the only way to shift to a new way of operating is to build new habits onto existing, familiar patterns. This is an exercise in sense-making and creating shared meaning that connects with current values and beliefs.

For more on the use of questions to advance change, check out this post on the art of humble inquiry.

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