Culture Change Starts With You

Chapter 35

By nature, a company purpose goes beyond a simple declaration of intent. It compels a distinct set of corollary perspectives and actions. In other words, a purpose is a promise that must be lived out. The “living out” happens day-to-day by people who are often known by titles like “employee”, “manager”, “owner” or “CFO”. They are people like you.

Therefore, to flip the key levers of living out purpose, the business must:

1) Tap into the desire or aspiration of its employees.

Don’t expect real employee engagement in support of a purpose that is unimportant or demotivating. A purpose based on authority structures or traditional “carrots and sticks” is sheer folly. It also assures the absence of a vital source of energy in support of the purpose, and that—at best—the purpose will be lived out inconsistently.Battleford Bank, “your neighborhood bank,” must pay attention when its employees are captivated by an idea to truly provide banking for everyone in the neighborhood (not just wealthy high-yield clients) and show it through their interactions on the message boards of the bank’s employee innovation platform.

2) Make choices and fundamental strategic decisions that manifestly demonstrate an unswerving commitment to the purpose.

Heed the words, “The art of strategy is expressed in the grim realism of choice.” Strategic actions must match words.A music festival founded, “to celebrate and preserve classical string music for future generations,” must not allow itself to be held captive by the revenue-generating potential of running a summer schedule heavy in pops concerts instead of their usual classical fare.

3) Embody the purpose so that it becomes an everyday standard.

If the purpose is not visibly embodied, it is merely a notion. Only flesh and bones human action will give it life by turning words into action. Titles don’t make leaders, followers do. And followers are most likely to emulate what they see in action.The manager of a call center, the largest operated by a company whose stated purpose is to “keep families safe and connected”, knows that the strategy decision handed down by her bosses to lay off staff will significantly increase wait times for the distress line the company operates. This contradicts the company’s stated purpose. She feels like some of the decision makers need to be made aware of this fact, and is starting to think she might be the one to do it. The manager is hearing different things around the place, which makes her wonder if the culture is starting to shift (or if a culture shift is necessary). She knows she is in a position to influence whatever is happening, if she can just figure out what she believes about it all… 

Culture Change Starts With You

“To fix this organization, you just HAVE to have culture change,” [TWEET THAT!] said the advisor on the radio today as she began to prescribe the remedy for an organization whose stated mandate and values had just been very publicly contradicted by one of its most prominent employees.

“And how does that come about?” the reporter asked

“That is a very good question,” replied the pundit, followed by a blank silence. Seeming to decide that she was not up to the tussle of unpacking the means to create such change, she opted to stick with the imperative, and finally broke the silence with, “The culture must shift!” The reporter, wisely it seems, abandoned that inquiry and moved on to other questions, leaving behind a yawning gap of insight.

Allow me to try to fill some of the void. The uncomfortable reality is that organizations cannot simply shift on their axis to create culture change and widespread behavior modification. Rather, culture change is a 1-to-1 phenomenon that occurs person by person when individual hearts and minds change. [TWEET THAT!]

Smokey the Bear has been on about this for generations — “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!” he says, in a not-so-subtle callout to the smallest and most dynamic levers of culture change and widespread impact: you and I.

So, perhaps counter-intuitively, if you are a leader and instigator who wants your company to live out a purpose, your real task is to incite and encourage a personal transformation for your colleague at the adjoining desk and the one you bump into each morning on the way to get coffee. It’s this 1-to-1 spread of change (what the internet calls “viral”) that begins to incite the faceless majority toward an incremental shift.

You are Changed By Metanoia


If a culture change originates when individual hearts and minds change, then the real question we must address is, “what causes people to have such a change of heart and mind that their behavior shifts sufficiently enough for others to notice?” Herein lies the mystery.

The ancient Greeks gave us a word to describe the heart-shift of a single person: metanoia. It quite literally refers to, “a change of mind or an after-thought.” One writer has referred to it as “experiencing a radical and counter-cultural paradigm shift of identity.” Often, personal crisis, loss, an unexpected experience, or relentless disquiet leads to this fundamental shift in beliefs and priorities. With it emerges a new pattern and intent of action. All lasting change is a product of metanoia, a phenomenon we’ll explore further in the next post.

To learn more about Telosity and join the movement to change business for the better, please visit Or you can reach Chris directly through [email protected].

For other posts in the Telosity series, click here.

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  1. Alan Arnett

    Good piece Chris. A few thoughts:

    You say ‘if you are a leader who wants your company to live out a purpose’. I know what you mean, but I would say all leaders want their people to live a purpose. It’s just that the purpose is more often to maintain a previously successful way of operating because it feels safe, rather than to achieve anything motivating in the world at large.

    Second, I agree change happens at the 1-2-1 level, but the real challenge is that your existing behaviours have been reinforcing the way the colleague works now, so influencing the colleague means first deciding to live your work differently.

    A favourite writer of mine on culture is Edgar Schein. I re-read something of his yesterday where he defines culture as what emerges as organisations ‘adapt externally and integrate internally’. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I think the same concept can be used for individuals – that ‘metanoia’ causes/requires changes to our internal integration and external adaptations.

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