I think we all would agree that corporate culture – a system of shared beliefs and values that influence “the way we do things around here” – influences every workplace. A positive and desirable corporate culture is highly beneficial – not just to morale and productivity, but also to recruiting, achieving long-term goals, and successfully navigating challenging business times.

Is it possible, though, to have a great corporate culture under the guidance of an ineffective leader? Conversely, is it possible to have bad corporate culture, despite the guidance of a great leader?  At Ashlin Associates, we would answer, “It depends!” Culture can fluctuate due to factors beyond a leader’s immediate control, such as the growth stage of a business. The essential optimism and hopefulness of a start-up isn’t something naturally sustained in a mature organization. Culture can also be affected by company size. As you might expect, because they can more easily keep a pulse on their organizations and reward desirable behaviors, smaller companies and start-ups are able to control and cultivate the culture of their choice more easily.

Shaping or changing the culture of a larger organization can be more challenging. And within a large organization, “sub-cultures” can exist and indeed, thrive. I often see department cultures defy the larger organization’s culture – for better or worse.  And I sometimes see culture and leadership at odds – a healthy culture despite poor leadership, and vice versa.

Improving Your Corporate Culture

In most situations, though, culture and leadership are two sides of the same coin. The concepts and practices of each are co-dependent and affect each other. Culture, though, can be a nebulous concept. Many well-intentioned and savvy leaders struggle to get their arms around it and end up frustrated in their attempts to bring about a culture change. It helps if they break their efforts into stages:


  • Don’t assume. Determine – in concrete and measurable terms — what your current culture is. Gather data from credible cultural surveys, key stakeholders and employees, turnover reports, and exit surveys.
  • Analyze. Review – without bias or predisposition — the data available to you.
  • Understand.  As you review, bear in mind your entire population which includes many different constituents, employee segments, and groups.
  • Conclude. Keep an open mind – without being defensive – as the data leads you to an accurate depiction of your own culture.


  • Articulate the type of culture you want — in writing.
  • Create cultural competencies that are linked to behaviors.
  • Develop a change management plan.


  • Identify leaders who will be accountable for change management efforts. Influencing corporate culture will require effort across the board; it is not a one-man job.
  • Implement a robust communication plan.
  • Communicate metrics for measuring the culture change.

Finally, even as I applaud your efforts to affect culture change, I’d remind you to be patient and consistent. Remember, it took quite some time for your current culture to develop. Likewise, reshaping your culture – even with your most dedicated efforts – can take 12-18 months, sometimes longer.

The short-term and long-term benefits to your organization, I assure you, will be entirely worth it.

Paulette Ashlin’s book, Leading: The Way – Behaviors that Drive Success outlines the importance of responding to, changing, and improving your behavior to become the best leader you can be.  Find out more at www.ashlinassociates.com