March 13, 2023

That’s a statistic to make you sit up and think.

The words culture and change in the same sentence are enough to strike fear into the hearts of the most battle-hardened HRDs and it’s no wonder, given the overwhelming body of research giving us statistics like 2/3 of change programmes fail.

You’ll have your own stories and experiences of culture change and theories as to why they fail, from inconsistent objectives and conflicting messages to leadership and management styles not aligned with employee expectations and the picture painted of the bright new future. The research just reinforces what many of us know already. Culture change is tough.


Take a holistic view: culture is woven through every part of your organisation


It’s because culture is woven through every part of an organisation. It’s not just about changing behaviour; it calls for change in every part of the organisation. From systems and processes to reward and recognition schemes and reporting lines. Sales and marketing, operations, IT and finance, customer service and facilities management. No one is exempt which is why it’s imperative that senior leaders communicate the case for change clearly to all employees and empower and support them to make it happen.

And whether your organisation is responding to global economic uncertainty or sector specific pressures leading to technology transformations, new product and service launches or shifting focus from a product or service-driven organisation to one that’s customer-centric, it all points to organisations needing to evolve and pivot.


Culture change and leadership: think ‘top-down led: bottom-up built’


Insight and experience from working with clients across more than 21 countries over the past 25 years is that successful culture change comes when HR and senior leaders provide compelling rationale for change – the WHY and WHAT – whilst empowering and trusting business unit and team leaders to drive the HOW. We call it the ‘top-down led: bottom-up built’ approach.


  • If a strategy is about engaging minds and culture change is about the heart what does that mean for senior leaders? It calls for clear communication and direction supported by consistent walk-the-talk.


  • HRDs and senior leaders will need to demonstrate a genuine commitment to the purpose behind and direction of the change by engaging, empowering and supporting their business unit and team leaders to determine HOW the transformation is brought to life in their part of the business.


  • If business unit and team leaders and their teams are responsible for delivering the culture change, have senior leaders invested in leadership programmes that give them the leadership skills needed to drive that change?


  • Take the holistic view: Culture change only happens when it touches every part of the organisation. Are your processes and systems set up to support the new way of working? Are traditional, hierarchical reporting lines and siloed teams an obstacle to rather than enabler of change? Are reward and recognition schemes based on individual KPIs rather than team-based metrics counter-intuitive if you need to shift to a learning culture based on teams working collaboratively?

Top down led - Bottom up built: What does it mean?

Top down led: Leaders are accountable for demonstrating the behaviour needed to support the desired culture and for creating the space and flex for the organisation to adapt and change.   

Bottom up built: Using the behaviour needed to support the desired culture, teams redesign policy, process and systems to effectively deliver the organisation’s strategy. 

An example: Senior leaders give teams permission to change existing processes and create the time for them to do so. The team with that permission and time, collaborate to redesign the process so that it is based on the desired behaviours and culture. 


Culture change is a huge, complex subject and it’s one we can’t cover in one blog so we’ll return to it in the coming weeks and months including: How to build a learning culture, overcoming silos and outcome-based performance metrics.  

But if you’re debating culture change in the (virtual) office right now, we hope the ‘top-down: bottom-up built’ approach will help shape your thinking and help you to see that sustainable culture change is possible, if you put the right leadership foundations in place.  

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Who are we? 

We’re LIW and we’ve been running leadership programmes for large organisations in Australia, UK, USA and across the globe for over 25 years. Our team of more than 80 coaches and facilitators are spread across the world, supported by the best project managers. (We might be biased here)

If you need to upgrade the core leadership skills in your organisation, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you and chat about how we can help.  

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