Culture and Change Readiness

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

People often think of culture as ‘how we do things round here’ – a simplified version of what it is. The guru of organisational culture is a guy called Edgar Schein. He describes culture as having 3 components. Let’s briefly consider each one.


These are things you can see about how the organisation works. Things like company logo, corporate clothing, architecture, processes and structure. These are not only visible to the employees but also visible and recognisable for external parties. Take for example the colonel and his bucket or the golden arches - logo, building, uniforms, ordering systems etc. all the same and all totally recognisable.

Espoused Values

These are the philosophies (principals and standards), rules of conduct and belief systems the organisation wants its stakeholders to accept. These are the things the organisation and it's leaders talk about and teach. Sometimes they are not what happen, but they are reflected in the formal stories (what people tell others). For example, an organisation might say it values transparency and collaboration but feedback is not well accepted and when things go wrong the finger pointing starts.

Underlying Assumptions

The third component is the underlying assumptions. These are much more difficult to get to because they are almost never spoken of, but they have the greatest impact on behaviour. These are the unconscious beliefs, the unspoken biases that underpin the organisation. People don’t talk about them, but most people in the organisation are shaped by them. In the example above there is likely a hidden assumption that no one gives feedback if they want to keep their job and/or watch your back because nobody else will.

What does this have to change readiness?

In most workplaces, nobody knows how change ready the organisation really is. They embark on changes for which people aren’t ready and encounter all kinds of problems that make life very difficult.

There are 3 main areas that work together to ensure successful change. These are Competency of leadership and the change management team to actually manage the change; Communication, i.e. messages sent to stakeholders and how they are understood by them; Change Fitness i.e. the psychological capacity of employees to begin (embrace) and succeed at the change.

If you try to implement change when there is a culture of low trust, that doesn't value feedback and by extension learning, that thinks what you want to do is just the latest 'hot topic' (like having vision, mission and values statements on the wall nobody lives up to) you will be hard pressed to get started, let alone succeed.

Implementing good change well, can significantly improve the culture. So understanding your current gaps and strengths, in other words, change readiness, across these 3 main areas will allow you to plan for them before you get too far off track, waste money and damage the culture.

If disengagement and resistance is a problem you're facing then check this out.