Your favorite baseball/football/hockey or whatever team has been losing for years. The local media says the team has a culture of losing and they need to change it. The locker room needs to bring in someone with winning pedigree to change it. This is something repeated time and time, like its a magic bullet that fixes the problem instantly. If it was that easy, wouldn’t ever team do it?

But what if you want to change the culture of a company. Just go recruit someone from a winning company and presto, your company is instantly successful. I hate to disappoint you, no, that does not work. If you have an example, well, most likely it is a result of survivor bias.

Culture exists on a team or a company for now the what they do, but how they do it. And the longer the “how” is tolerated or rewarded my more ingrained it is in the culture. A single outside voice, no matter how successful is not going turn the ship around.

So how do you change culture? Understand one key, culture exists is that there is “buy in” on the change. In fact it is like a cult, people buy in and then change to fit in. Of course if getting people to buy in, is that easy wouldn’t everyone do it?

If we are saying its a cult, why not look at how cults lure people in:

  1. Cults know Humans are ‘pack animals.’ They want to a sense of belonging, a sense of community. Easily picking on people who feel lonely.
  2. People also want a sense of purpose. Somehow from a young age we are told we have a destiny, we are here for a reason. Cults sell a purpose of a mission and make you a part of it.
  3. They promise you some personal goal, growth, achievement. That by being part of this community you will find self-improvement and enlightenment.
  4. They have charismatic leaders. People who can sell ice to eskimos (as they saying goes). People who are down, lonely see this charisma and are attracted to it.
  5. They manipulate their disciples. The leaders know human weaknesses, and prey on emotions, mental states of people who if they had a better mindset would not normally be gullable.
  6. There is a sense of urgency. This is a big sales tactic. Make someone feel they will miss out.
  7. Show off “success” (survivor bias) Everyone here is having a great time, our lives are ‘better’ than yours.

Looking at the list, many of the same tactics are used in Sales. Thing of Amazon showing an item that says “3 Left” — An email saying “our semi-annual sale” which somehow seems to last 6 months at time. Any add showing how your life will be so much better if you just drank their light beer. So these tactics, are not just used for cults, but used in general to convince people to do something, vote some way.

So how do you apply this to change the culture of your team or business.

  1. You do need someone who is charismatic. Actually you may need more than one. The larger the organization, the more people you will need to “sell the message”
  2. Imply there is a sense of urgency. Is there a competitor that will over take your company, are people’s jobs are the line. There needs to be some idea that the change needs to be now.
  3. Find the purpose. And it might be multiple. In larger organizations each different area needs different purposes. I have found this is a challenge, and often the purpose is to work with great people. The work, is secondary.
  4. Instead of talking about change, talk about growth. Even the word “better” is difficult, as often people will get defensive about what they do now. But growing personally, and professionally is an easier sell.
  5. Find a few people who already bought in, and parade them around as being part of this community. This needs to be people who are seen as leaders, viewed as successful. Build the desire to want to be part of that group. To not be the outsider.

I hold off on manipulation, deprivation etc. Anything done should be done in growth and positives. There are a few differences that I believe companies (and yes teams) needs to also drive.

  1. Leaders must lead by example. Any change in culture needs examples, and those who are doing the talking must walk the walk. People can easily spot out those who talk, but do something out. This instantly kills the change.
  2. Reward positive behavior. Companies reward the “what” gets done, and ignore the how. And often the how is this negative behavior. If reward is on the bad behavior, it will continue. Recognize people doing the right “how” — and reward them
  3. Be patient and persistent. It is not going change overnight. Change may have to start with one smaller group, and show the success and use that as an example.
  4. Provide training and development. Emails, or links to ‘videos’ are not going to do it. In person is preferred if possible.
  5. Reinforce often. It should be the highlight over and over (repetition till its true)
  6. Encourage participation and feedback.
  7. Continuously evolve the culture. It will need to change…

This is not a guarantee of success. Culture change is very difficult but it is possible. So maybe trading for someone who is charismatic, and can push a sense of belonging, purpose could change the fortunes of a team.


This opinion is mine, and mine only, my current or former employers have nothing to do with it. I do not write for any financial gain, I do not take advertising and any product company listed was not done for payment. But if you do like what I write you can donate to the charity I support (with my wife who passed away in 2017) Morgan Stanley’s Children’s Hospital or donate to your favorite charity. I pay to host my site out of my own pocket, my intention is to keep it free.  I do read all feedback, I mostly wont post any of them

This Blog is a labor of love, and was originally going to be a book.  With the advent of being able to publish yourself on the web I chose this path.  I will write many of these and not worry too much about grammar or spelling (I will try to come back later and fix it) but focus on content.  I apologize in advance for my ADD as often topics may flip.  I hope one day to turn this into a book and or a podcast, but for now it will remain a blog.