Blog Post

Four Essential Levers for Building a Thriving Workplace Culture

By Lily Woi
July 8, 2024

Lily Woi is an accomplished Organizational Culture Consultant and Executive Coach who has made significant contributions to the field of workplace culture transformation. In 2024, she captivated DEI, ERG, and talent leaders at our sold-out EmERGe conference with her insights on fostering sustainable cultural change. With her expertise in developing mindsets, abilities, structures, and systems, Lily has helped numerous organizations achieve lasting success by aligning their culture with their strategic goals.

The following blog is a collaborative effort between Lily Woi and Seramount, where she shares her expertise in culture change in the workplace.

How to Successfully Sustain Workplace Culture Change

Culture plays a pivotal role in shaping the success and sustainability of organizations. It sets the tone for employee behavior, influences decision-making processes, and ultimately defines the organization’s identity. As a 2021 Sloan Review article explains, “Companies cannot realize the true potential of digital transformation, embrace new business models, or implement new ways of working without supporting changes in organizational behaviors and norms.” This sentiment is echoed by PWC’s 2021 Global Culture Survey, where a staggering 72% of leaders identified culture as vital for preparing for future changes.

Despite its importance, many culture change initiatives fall short. The real challenge lies in sustaining these positive shifts over time. This article looks at four fundamental levers instrumental in fostering successful, long-lasting cultural transformation. By addressing these elements systematically from the outset, you can pave the way for impactful and enduring cultural change within your organization.

To forge an enduring culture, we must address Mindset, Abilities, Processes, and Structures to create an environment that reinforces a positive and desired workplace culture.

Mindsets: The Core of Cultural Transformation

Cultural transformation, at its core, starts with individuals ad their mindsets. True and lasting change hinges on addressing these underlying beliefs, values, and attitudes. Imagine trying to push a giant boulder uphill blindfolded. You exert tremendous effort, but progress is slow and uncertain. That’s what attempting cultural transformation without addressing mindsets feels like.

Employees’ mindsets are the unseen force that determines how they perceive change, approach challenges, and ultimately behave. Any cultural shift will likely remain superficial if you don’t address these underlying factors. Just like the most significant part of an iceberg lies beneath the surface, the real power of cultural change lies in employee psychology.

To foster the desired behaviors and values, I recommend the following strategies, each designed to influence employee mindsets:

  1. Articulate Clear Aspirations: Imagine the organization as a ship sailing towards a distant shore. A compelling vision that resonates with employees acts as the navigational chart, clarifying the direction and purpose. This provides a framework for employees to understand how their work contributes to the bigger picture. When employees see the value their actions bring, they’re more likely to internalize and adopt the desired behaviors.
  2. Align Decisions with Goals: Consistency is key. Think of leadership as a beacon. Ensuring all decisions made at the organizational level align with the desired cultural transformation goals reinforces the new values and demonstrates leadership commitment. By seeing leadership “walk the talk” and make choices supporting the new culture, employees are more likely to believe in the change and adjust their mindsets accordingly.
  3. Adapt Processes and Systems: The processes and systems employees interact with daily should support and encourage the desired behaviors. Picture the daily tasks and systems as the ship’s rigging. Streamlining workflows and implementing tools that facilitate collaboration can make the new culture a natural fit. When everyday tasks and systems reflect the desired values, employees are nudged towards adopting those values in their thinking and actions.

Abilities: The Foundation of Cultural Transformation

Without the right skills and capabilities, even the most well-defined cultural vision remains just that—a vision. That’s why developing your employees’ abilities is the second key element in fostering successful cultural transformation.
Think of it this way: how can you expect employees to embrace new behaviors if they lack the necessary tools and skills? Building abilities empowers your workforce to execute the desired behaviors, fostering confidence and a sense of ownership in the cultural shift. This focus on practical skills ensures cultural change becomes sustainable, creating a workforce that consistently embodies the new culture, not just understands it.

Here’s how organizations can build these abilities:

  1. Identify Core Practices: Imagine your organization as a garden, and the core competencies are the seeds. Start by understanding the core competencies that align with your cultural vision. What behaviors and skills are essential for success in your transformed culture? Pinpointing these essential skills allows you to tailor development initiatives effectively.
  2. Comprehensive and Experiential Learning Journey: Think of this journey as nurturing those seeds into strong, resilient plants. A well-structured and engaging development plan empowers employees to acquire the necessary skills. This journey should be comprehensive and ongoing, encompassing a variety of learning methods like online courses, workshops, mentoring programs, and on-the-job experiences. Experiential learning, such as role-play and simulated scenarios, allows employees to practice new skills in a safe environment, fostering confidence and competence.
  3. Measure Effectiveness and Adapt: Just as gardeners regularly check the health of their plants, regularly assess the effectiveness of your skill development initiatives through evaluations and feedback sessions. This data allows you to identify areas for improvement and ensure your development programs remain aligned with the evolving needs of your workforce and cultural goals.

Structures: The Messenger of Cultural Transformation

Organizational structures are more than just org charts; they send powerful messages about what behaviors and values are truly valued. They act as the architecture of your culture and influence communication, decision-making, and the flow of information, ultimately shaping how employees interact, collaborate, and behave.

Often overlooked, these structures play a critical role in creating an environment that naturally nudges employees towards the desired behaviors and interactions. To ensure your structures support the desired cultural change, consider these key elements:

  1. Empowered Decision-Making: Imagine your organization as a thriving community where every voice matters. Empower employees by flattening hierarchies and promoting open communication channels to foster collaboration and participation in decision-making processes. Encouraging employees to voice their opinions promotes inclusivity. This includes reviewing and changing governance, organization design span and layers, and decision-making authority to enable alignment and realization of the company’s culture to deliver on its purpose and strategy.
  2. Break Down Silos: Think of silos as barriers that hinder creativity and collaboration. Create cross-functional teams and sessions to resolve challenges and brainstorm new ideas collaboratively. Consider rearranging office spaces to allow employees from different departments to sit closer together, making it easier for them to interact and collaborate.
  3. Align Performance Management: Imagine linking performance evaluations with cultural values as tying every action to the heartbeat of the organization. This alignment reinforces the importance of cultural values. Embed cultural metrics and performance goals into employees’ objectives and development plans to ensure everyone is moving in the same direction.

Systems: The Backbone of Cultural Transformation

Efficient systems are the backbone of cultural transformation. They’re the engine keeping your desired culture running smoothly. These systems encompass the processes, procedures, policies, practices, tools, and platforms that support, monitor, and reinforce the desired behaviors.

To support the cultural transformation effectively, consider the following strategies:

  1. Use Incentives: Picture a reward system as a beacon guiding employees toward new behaviors. Implementing a reward system, both monetary and non-monetary, that aligns with the cultural transformation motivates employees to embrace the change wholeheartedly. When employees see that their efforts are recognized and rewarded, they are more likely to internalize and embody the new values.
  2. Celebrate Desired Behaviors: Imagine recognition as a spotlight highlighting the best aspects of your culture. Establish recognition systems that reinforce the desired cultural behaviors. Celebrating achievements aligned with the new culture motivates employees to sustain their efforts. Public acknowledgments and celebrations create a positive feedback loop, encouraging continuous commitment to the cultural shift.
  3. Regular Engagement Evaluations: Think of evaluations as the compass ensuring your journey stays on course. Measuring the impact of cultural changes is essential for continuous improvement. Conducting regular evaluations allows organizations to adapt their strategies based on real-world outcomes. These evaluations provide valuable insights into what’s working and what needs adjustment, ensuring the cultural transformation remains effective and aligned with organizational goals.

Why does it matter?

To achieve sustainable change, it’s crucial to address all four levers: Mindsets, Abilities, Processes, and Structures. Leaders often focus too much on the tangible aspects, such as Processes and Structures, because they are easier to modify. However, this approach doesn’t lead to long-term change. The intangible aspects, such as Mindsets and Abilities, are often neglected but are equally important.

For instance, changing reporting lines and job titles without making substantial changes to day-to-day responsibilities and behaviors fails to support the desired change. Conversely, focusing solely on the intangibles without making tangible changes is equally ineffective. There is no point in developing a collaborative culture if the reward structure emphasizes individual performance. Employees may hear the message, but without actions to back it up, the change won’t be lasting.

Lasting transformation requires all four levers to be in play. Only by addressing Mindsets, Abilities, Structures, and Systems can organizations create and sustain a thriving work environment that supports growth and success.

Lily’s unique CRPIT framework has been developed to complement these four levers, tackling systemic cultural challenges and fostering a thriving culture aligned with your transformation vision. To learn more about how to apply this framework in your organization and unlock its true potential, download Lily Woi’s  Culture Catalyst Guide today.

Be intentional about the culture you create, ensuring it sets the company and all its people up for success.

Call for Speakers: Share Your Expertise at Our 2025 Conferences

Lily Woi spoke at one of our events in 2024, addressing crucial topics like this one to DEI, ERG, and talent leaders at our sold-out EmERGe conference. Would you like to share your insights at a similar platform? Our 2025 Call for Speakers is now open!

This is your chance to present workshops, next practice sessions, case studies, and hot topic discussions to an engaged audience of industry leaders. For workshops, you can cover a paragraph describing your workshop, 3-5 key takeaways, and your approach to creating interactive sessions. For virtual speakers, tools like slides, polling, video files, group chat, and breakout rooms will be available. For next practice sessions and case studies, you can share your success stories including the problem, process, solution, results, and application. And for hot topic sessions, a paragraph describing your proposed topic is required.

Before submitting your application, please review our comprehensive tip sheet. This sheet includes submission requirements, key dates, target audiences, and specific objectives for each event.

Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis through January 1, 2025. Don’t miss this chance to share your expertise and connect with industry leaders. Apply now to become a Seramount speaker in 2025!

About the Author

Lily Woi
Executive Leadership & Career Advancement
Lily Woi Coaching