Personal Development

Barriers to changing culture

Changing culture for good is a mantra every leader has lived with during the last decades. Companies often talk about it; leaders declare that they will inform the change to make the culture better. And still, after so many efforts, some cultures remain “toxic, non-supportive and demanding.” Falling into such a specific situation, leaders try harder, stay true to their values and try several more methods and tactics to create and sustain change.

Many leaders acted directly on something that happened and planned to happen. But in many cases, this is not productive. Before acting, we need to understand how we are going to act. The leadership strategy should go in the way of first understanding what stops the cultural change and then working. There are many barriers, some seen ad others not, preventing the difference in the culture. At the same time, several universal obstacles show up in every situation when trying to change the culture. These universal barriers are showing everywhere. They are in the middle of every storm caused by attempting to change the culture. Looking at them is the first step to building a successful strategy for changing culture and sustaining a new environment in time. These barriers are:


 So much talk about conformity, and still, many people do not understand how it affects the change of culture. What conformity means is to accept what is happening without trying to change it.

Conformity can be identified in phrases like: “It is like it is.” People know that the culture is not the one they want to see, the relationship can dramatically change if they act, but at the same time, they do not want to take an active position in this situation. In the head of the person who conforms to the current culture and condition is the only thought: “It is not what it has to be, but someone else has to change it.” Conformity creates endless waiting, while at the same time, people invest efforts to adapt to the current cultural framework instead of changing it for good. 


While trying to keep conformity, people often react with adverse reactions to those expected to help change. Trying to “save themselves from change,” many people start reacting against the change instead of supporting it. That creates a discrepancy in the organization and opposite groups – one supporting the change and one opposing it, without even knowing why. Adverse reactions are often barriers because people do not feel comfortable taking place in the shift. If someone outside their inner circle does the change and serves it as a ready-to-use or participate, they will accept it, but participation is often not on their list.


Another barrier to change is the comfort the current situation and culture create for part of some people. People are hedonistic creatures. They like to feel happiness and run away from unhappiness. People do not want to be challenged too much or for an extended period. While changing the culture is a long-term initiative, people often understand that participating in the change process will create some inconvenience. Some people like current culture because it creates a large comfort zone around them. And who does not want to feel comfortable? If all that falls apart, this group of people will have to live with an uncomfortable state of mind and body and adapt to new environments that they do not know. Unknown future and the lack of information about it generates fear of the culture change.


Have you been in a situation where someone with enough power tries different things to change the culture in the company? “Dynamics,” they call it. But at the same time, this dynamic approach is nothing else than a chaotic loss of energy. The lack of consistency destroys the cultural power. People need to see the texture in time to start believing that everything is changing for good. Just showing that we have done one thing differently one time is not enough. Not thinking consistently about the change as a change is a prerequisite for creating an exhausting environment that drains everyone’s powers. Not being consistent in what we want to achieve creates discrepancy and toxicity in the culture.


“The leader who does not have followers to believe in what he is doing is not a leader,  but a destroyer,” states Dalai Lama in one of his speeches. Changing the culture is not meant to happen as a one-man-standing event. It must involve people in the way of change to create power that can revitalize everyone and boost the network of change agents. Like many people the leader can attract, the more possible the transformation of the culture will be seen in a cheerful nuance. Connection to the environment,  to others in your field,  to the different levels in the company, and the specifics of the groups of people experiencing the consequences of the change are the essential elements that can guarantee moving forward with a positive cultural impact.


Life is not what we imagine but what we can realistically live with. Many leaders today talk about the positive impact of the culture on business results,  but only a small number of them can explain what a positive culture means. Understanding the main barriers that can stop or slow positive change can help every leader in an organization grow on a higher level.


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