Culture Shift: What Makes an Organization Change?

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Every company’s culture is different. Nevertheless, the concept of corporate culture can be identified as a complex mix of written rules, assumed expectations, and group etiquette that drives individual behavior and dictates overall corporate decisions and business plans. Culture impacts everything from hiring and training to product marketing and meeting customer needs.

It was once common for an organization’s principles to remain steadfast for decades, but lately many corporations seem to be open to change or, due to various circumstances, are being forced to reexamine values and traditions.

Here is a look at three highly disruptive triggers likely to transform an organization’s status quo.

  1. High-Profile Litigation. Very public lawsuits and large compensatory and punitive damage awards will often compel corporations to reassess culture. Walmart is an interesting example. After years of defending itself against discrimination and wage and hour disputes, the retailer has become an esteemed, if not surprising, advocate for diversity and inclusion. Walmart’s internal legal department now very diverse, and the company demands that the various outside law firms handling litigation and transactional work bring teams comprised to a large extent of women and minorities. Walmart carefully reviews billing files to ensure that diverse lawyers are playing significant roles on important projects. Ten years ago, it would have been hard to imagine Walmart as a leader in this cultural shift.
  2. Consumer Outrage. As the term “corporate responsibility” becomes more embedded in our society, safety and health objectives have become more meaningful to companies, and they are now more than just defensive moves against product liability lawsuits. In terms of large publicly-traded companies, there will always be a divide between the consumer and the stockholder, but we are witnessing great debates and steady impetus toward change. Examples include:
    • Facebook and other social media platforms provide free services, but they must keep users satisfied to please the advertisers who are paying for services. Recent privacy breaches have disrupted the industry, and most social media corporations have been quick to demonstrate their sincerity in meeting the public’s demands.
    • The cosmetic, food, and automobile industries are better prepared to recall products, and they continue to tout that the safety and health of customers are top-of-mind.
    • The controversy around pricing in the drug industry remains volatile, and the continual demand for change may force manufacturers to reevaluate profit models that hurt public perception.
  3. The Global War for Talent. Finding and keeping the best talent to stay viable has forced many corporations to rethink how they treat employees. Though wages in the technology industry have been soaring for years, wages in other industries are finally starting to show some movement. Flexible work arrangements, family leave, and on-site daycare centers are other positive responses to the competitive need for recruiting and obtaining talent.

In a more perfect world, we could hope that compassionate and benevolent corporate leaders would want to deliver fairness, quality, and goodwill to all without any prevailing stimuli. But in our flawed world, we can at least be grateful that our ever-changing environment will continue to motivate, urge, and even pressure corporations to accommodate humanity’s needs.