Shape Organizational Change Through Cultural Development

Big shifts in the way you want people to work in your organization start by identifying the core values that make up your company's culture as well as which set of new values you want to incorporate. This new set of values will act as the foundation that your company will use to identify and map out the key beliefs that you want everyone in the organization to embody. These core values are the underpinnings of decision making, as a group they let people know the right and wrong (accepted or frowned upon) way to behave in the organization. They identify not only what it means to be successful as an individual in the company, but guide the organization as it maps out a way in which the entire organization will run and face change. 

Agencies are like any other type of organization, they are social systems made up of people, that share a set of written and unspoken rules as well as a set of philosophies that form the organization's culture and sub-cultures. The Boss, the creative director, the intern, and you and I all exist as individuals, but together, we all exist as a larger interactive system. 

Organizations change through learning at this system level — where we share insights, knowledge and our mental models (what a person believes about the current system at hand) through systematic processes. The quality of organizational learning can be effected by a matrix of variables, from leadership, to management, to existing cultural norms as well as the quality of individual interactions, HRD practices and agency processes & structure. This matrix both forms the system as well as forming the networked effect on the pieces of the system.

While the success of many organizations depend on their ability to learn and innovate, organizations that depend on creativity and innovation as a product, have a more intimate relationship with their belief systems. That intimacy often translates into places that work at a high level when it comes to value sharing, both with their clients and internally. Indeed, I think you can see it in the type of work that a place makes and produces. 

Agencies are made up some very unusual characters who have very strong beliefs. We have lots of opinions, and lots of ideas. We all strive for insights, to make connections with consumers through culture, through shared values, we try to persuade people to buy stuff by changing their mental models about a product or way of doing things in order to try something new.

So this knowledge and importance we place in the cultures of others carries big meaning to people who work in the subculture of creativity. Understanding cultural values is a big strength in develop strategy and ideas, but it is also one of our biggest weaknesses when we try to identify values and affect change our own organization. 

Why? I think partly because agencies have a hard time following their own stated values. How many times have you heard from an agency that, "we believe in a work-life balance," only to find out that the norm in the agency is working 50-60 hours, nights and weekends. Or, how many times have we created manifesto's and mission statements for our clients, that we know that they have no interest or capability of following through on?

I'm not saying creative people are jaded when it comes to setting and following organizational values, I'm just saying you have to work harder at them to make them stick and have them become incorporated during the long-term. 

When an organization says, "the work comes first," it means something different from, "we are accountable." These statements mean more than you think. They not only convey what type of organization you are, but they tell others how they are expected to behave, and what the organization as a whole places value in. Processes and systems in the organization are built around the support of those values in order to create an organization-wide shared culture.

What are core values? 

Core values are statements that elicit specific behaviors in the organization. These values could encompass specifics on integrity, ethics, commitments, relationships, understandings, teamwork, respect and accountability. They can be internal values, that may relate to your agency's mission statement, or they can incorporate tenets that you want others to know about you. Agencies for example will embody values into statements such as "doubt the conventional," "be real, be honesty & be authentic,""we are makers, we are builders, we are thinkers," or simply, "we appreciate each other," to convey beliefs.

Core values while meant to be internal — incorporated into job descriptions and competencies are also part of external persona. — can also be part of what you see as your competitive edge, what makes your agency special. Core values are external in that they communicate to the outside world and your clients what you believe and how you work. Core values also tell prospective employees about your agency, what you may look for in a potential employee and what you would expect of them if they joined your agency. 

Organizational values help people establish priorities and guide decision making. (We hire and fire based on how well people demonstrate and model these values in their day-to-day behavior, decision making and contribution to the group) 

Core values not only become part you mission statement, but they become part of how you hire, who you hire and how you evaluate employees. Core values also act as the foundation for how you approach process and day-to-day interactions. When we set out to manage change, a great place to start is by identifying your core values. These core values will help you look hard at what your company is like now, and what type of place you want to become in the future.


Take the short statement of "we are brave" for example. It's a great statement to start with, that can mean many things on a variety of levels. Change in an organization requires bravery to overcome risk, to sustain significant effort and to have trust when facing the unknown. Since change, for many people that we work with, can provoke feelings of fear, confusion and uncertainty. Incorporating the value of "we are brave," is a cultural identification statement, that says we can face change positively and that we are not afraid of the unknown.

Successfully implementation in an organization means a three step process, properly preparing for change, managing the process and institutionalizing new processes. During these stages, facilitating change requires a strategic vision, clear consistent communication, open-mindedness and a commitment to defined goals. 

When we are managing change, we are changing process in an organization that determines how we will work day-to-day. Process tells us how we act, how we interact, what our responsibilities are and helps to guide us when things go wrong. Process creates a frame work for how we manage projects and teams. Without clear process management in place, there can be no project management, people get lost, projects are mismanaged and deliverables and finances are uncontrolled.

There is no doubt, big changes are hard to make. Over all three stages of change management, it requires effort, time and mental energy from everyone in the organization for big changes to stick. 

When we make changes to process we must be sensitive to the ongoing work. Therefore, we must make sure that we lay the groundwork for change — we set values/goals, we get buy-in and we communicate. We adopt change by being empathetic to others and by allowing for adjustments. We are patient, we encourage and we recognize and reward progress. We also make sure everyone in the organization has come to terms with "new norms," has an understanding of their roles and a true willingness to accept personal responsibility for maintaing the new changes.

Change is hard work, but it often mirrors the creative process, what you already do every day. Embrace change in your organization the same way you would treat your most important clients. Challenge the old norms, cast a wide net when developing process and implement it using the right project or operations management style for the culture of your agency. What works for one group, may not fit your own. Remember, culture in your company not only shapes how you approach work, but how you do it.

Start by setting a strategy, and examine what values are important to the larger organization and you. Determine what culture you ultimately want in your organization. For good or bad, your current cultural inclinations are typically well entrenched. Draw on the positive aspects of the existing culture, turn them into advantages. Whittle away at the negatives, by letting everyone know the core values of the organization. Remember that when you set new agency values you are asking for changes in behavior or expecting new behaviors to happen. (and that's change itself!) Live your culture and let it touch every aspect of your organization, both internally and externally. Be brave.

A Starting Point - Examples of Core Values 
(To get you started in identifying values in your organization.)

Ethical Behavior

  • We value trust and accountability in all our relationships.
  • We believe in doing the right thing.
  • We believe in an environment that encourages open communication, honesty and compassion.
  • We feel everyone should be treated with respect.
  • We are transparent.


Integrity / Character

  • We are personally accountable.
  • We believe in authenticity.
  • Credibility
  • Flexibility
  • We value the individual



  • Risk-taking is a friend
  • Dedication
  • Flexibility
  • Persistance

Social Worth & Community

Empathy & Caring

  • We build long-term connections with our clients and with our staff.
  • The importance of remaining humble. 
  • Courage
  • Empowerment
  • Generosity

Balance / Equilibrium

  • Find pleasure and purpose in a balanced life


  • We are accountable
  • We exceed client expectations
  • We seek constant improvement
  • We do things right
  • We value competency

Positive Partnerships

  • We collaborate to achieve shared success
  • We value community partnerships
  • We work with others who share our values
  • Respect
  • Friendliness
  • Dependability 


Diversity & Inclusion

Team Centric

  • Everyone can contribute ideas and opinions in a safe encouraging environment.
  • We value openness
  • We value others
  • We value fun

Client Centric

  • We treat our clients with respect even when they are not in the room

Creative Centric

  • We care about the work from start to finish

Delivery Centric

  • We deliver what we promise

Results Centric

  • We care about the results, as much as we care about your business


  • We are innovators, creators and pioneers
  • Technology enables us, but does not limit us