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How to make a culture change

How to make a culture change

Culture change failed?

Have you tried implementing a culture change that just didn’t stick? 

More often than not, organisations make the mistake of treating the culture change project like a new marketing campaign. There’s a launch date. Sexy posters. And hours of programs at an off-site led by executives who didn’t read the slides. 

And what happens?


Because the majority of people resist change. They fight it. Or maybe they don’t even show up.

And that’s not fair. You’ve noticed there’s a culture issue within your organisation. So you try do something about it. But it becomes a waste of resources, and you’re right back where you started because somewhere along the way, the organisation forgot that they’re transforming PEOPLE, not PRODUCT.


What is Culture? 

The textbook definition goes something like: 

“Company culture is the shared values and practices that shape the personality of an organisation.”

But you’re not here for the textbook definition. You’re here to learn how to make a culture change. 

Culture is the relationship between an organisation and its employees. It’s an emotional question. And I’m not saying organisations should operate in a world where dollars and cents aren’t important because they are. But to have a relationship with someone else or a company—you need humility. 

You need to be open to other people’s views. Employees need an environment where they can ask people what they think and feel heard. And you can only create that feeling with humility. And like all relationships, it’s constantly evolving which is why the organisation must nurture it. 

Culture Change

For starters, organisations make the mistake of talking about what culture change is, not how to make a culture change. Culture change is “the process which encourages employees to adopt behaviours and mindsets consistent with the organisation's values and goals”. 

Great. That’s what it is. But no one talks about how to do it. So how do you do it? By injecting a new cultural behaviour using the Law of Diffusion of Innovation. 


The Law of Diffusion of Innovations 


Any data set, market, or group of people can be evenly distributed across a bell curve. You have high performers, low performers and the majority. 

Everett Rogers first formulated the theory in his book "Diffusion of Innovations”. Rogers wanted to explain the pattern and speed at which new ideas, practices, or products spread through a population—in other words—change.

He found the adoption rate of change was contingent on how people in five key categories reacted. So, let’s assume there are 100 employees in your organisation.

The law of diffusion tells us that 2.5% of the population are innovators. Big ideas people. The Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. They are the first to adopt change. They are willing to take risks and are adventurous.

Then you have the next 13.5%, the early adopters. These individuals are typically opinion leaders and are willing to sacrifice time and money to try new ideas. They adopt change early, helping the cultural shift gain acceptance and credibility. They might line up for 8 hours to get a new iPhone, even though it will be released 10% cheaper in a few weeks. 

And then you have the early (34%) and late (34%) majority groups. These people are slower in the adoption process and are hyperrational beings. They need evidence that the change works before they are willing to adopt it and are inherently sceptical. But they are the majority, and if these people don’t adopt the idea, you’re in trouble. 

And the final 16% of people are laggards. These individuals are the last to adopt change and only adopt because they have no choice.


Makes sense, right? 


But here’s where things get interesting. 



Change is a social phenomenon. You’ll always have at least 2.5-10% of people who really like the idea, the innovators. They’re a dream! But as a human resource manager trying to implement change, you need a 34% majority to adopt the change for the idea to stick. In other words, you need to make the magical leap from 10% to 34%. Great! So what’s the problem? 

The majority are hyperrational, sceptical and only interested in change if there’s something in it for them. They approach change with questions like “What’s in it for me?” “What do I get if it goes wrong?” or “Are you going to pay me or reward me extra?” Change doesn’t stick easily. 


So, how do you make the jump to the majority and achieve market penetration? You do the exact opposite of what your instincts are telling you. 


The Chasm

Ignore the majority.

Instead, focus all of your energy on the early adopters. Because once you get roughly 15% of the early adopters on board, you cross the chasm or reach the tipping point and start to get critical mass adoption with the early majority. 


Why? Because the majority don’t want to try something new. So don’t waste your time on them, yet. You need to focus all your energy on winning enough early adopters to reach the tipping point and cross the chasm.



Let’s take a generic culture change initiative, like remote work or a working-at-home policy and see why focusing on the early adopters is the best way to bring about change. 

The innovators will be quick to adopt remote work. They might be tech enthusiasts who likely already have a home office setup and are comfortable using digital tools for collaboration and enhance their productivity. 

The early adopters recognise the potential benefits of remote work early on. They might lead by example and show how communication and team dynamics can work in a remote or hybrid setup. What’s key about this group is that they help establish the credibility of working from home within the organisation. 

Sceptical of remote work, the majority adopts the practice when it becomes more mainstream, and they perceive it as a norm rather than an exception. They typically wait for reviews and look for evidence of remote work benefits before fully committing. They need reassurance about the impact of remote work and might require more support and clear guidelines from the company to adjust effectively.

So, if you need to drive a culture change, make the Law of Diffusion of Innovations your best friend. By focusing on early adopters and not the majority, you’ll create a ripple effect that ensures the culture change sticks! 

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