How Can You Improve a Long-Standing Legacy Culture?

Time to Read: 5.8 minutes

Updated: October 3, 2023

It is impossible to overstate the importance of company culture to an organization. Culture is the backdrop to everything your business does. It shapes your identity as a company, guides your decision-making and influences your success. It can make or break your ability to attract top talent and is the glue that keeps them committed to your mission.

However, for many businesses, especially those with long-standing legacy cultures, the journey towards cultural transformation can be a daunting and complex task. These deeply ingrained cultures carry with them their own set of values, norms, and traditions, making the prospect of change both challenging and full of potential roadblocks.

Throughout my career I’ve worked in organizations with many types of cultures. One thing I’ve learned is that any culture, no matter how established or positive, has room for improvement! I’d like to share my insights on how you can go about making changes for the better to a long-standing, or legacy culture.

Assessing Your Current Culture

Before starting your journey of culture transformation, it’s important that you have a deep understanding of your existing organizational culture. This understanding serves as the foundation on which successful change initiatives are built. Conducting a comprehensive culture assessment is the first step in this process. A culture assessment helps identify the strengths and weaknesses of your legacy culture, identifying areas that require attention and areas that should be preserved.

To conduct a thorough culture assessment, consider the following methods:

  • Surveys, interviews, and focus groups to gather information from existing staff.
  • Observation of organizational practices, interactions and routines.
  • External benchmarking that compares your culture to industry standards.
  • Analysis of relevant data such as retention rates, performance metrics and diversity and inclusion data.

It is important that you gather insight from a range of sources and engage employees at all levels of the organization, from frontline staff to executives, in the assessment process.  A thorough culture assessment can reveal valuable details of your existing culture’s nuances, values, and behaviors that you might otherwise miss.

Steps for Making Change

Once a comprehensive cultural assessment has been conducted, you can begin the process of slowly changing organizational culture by taking strategic steps designed to improve engagement and commitment to drive cultural transformation:

1. Setting Clear Objectives

Without well-defined goals, the process of change will lack direction, making it challenging to measure progress and success. To achieve a successful culture change, start by defining your specific goals for cultural improvement.

These goals should be tangible, measurable, and aligned with your organization’s broader strategic objectives. Creating a vision statement for the desired culture provides a shared understanding of the destination, helping to inspire and motivate employees toward the desired cultural shift. This clarity not only ensures that everyone is on the same page but also serves as a guiding beacon throughout the transformation process, enhancing the likelihood of achieving lasting and positive cultural change.

2. Leading by Example

Cultural change is only possible with the backing and commitment of leadership. Employees will take their cue from their management team, yet according to a Gallup poll, only two in 10 say that their manager explains how the organization’s cultural values influence their work. By actively participating in the new culture, leadership models behaviors and processes for employees to emulate.

They can also provide visible and vocal support for change, consistently communicating the importance of new processes and articulating how change relates to the organization’s vision, mission, and long-term success. This not only encourages buy-in from junior employees but also instills confidence in them. Employees are inspired to embrace change and contribute to a new culture that reflects the organization’s evolving values and goals.

3. Employee Engagement and Involvement

Involving employees in the process of change is not just valuable; it’s essential for a successful cultural transformation. Employees are the heart of an organization, and their engagement and buy-in are key to driving cultural change. To accomplish this, leaders can create cross-functional teams comprising members from various levels and departments to drive culture initiatives. This approach encourages diversity of thought and a sense of ownership and inclusion for everyone.

Encouraging open communication through dedicated feedback channels gives employees the chance to voice their concerns, suggestions, and insights. It also allows you to be transparent about change. By actively involving employees in these ways, you can tap into your workforce’s collective expertise and enthusiasm, ensuring that the cultural change is not a top-down mandate but a collaborative effort.

4. Providing Training and Development

Friction can arise if employees do not have the tools and capabilities to thrive in your new culture. An effective way to identify any knowledge gaps is through thorough skills assessments and performance evaluations designed with your new cultural expectations in mind.

Once gaps are identified, you can invest in tailored employee training and development programs that address specific skill and knowledge deficiencies. Equipping employees with the competencies needed to thrive post-cultural shift further demonstrates the organization’s commitment to their growth.

5.  Recognition and Rewards

Acknowledging and celebrating employees who demonstrate newly established cultural norms sends a clear message about what behaviors are valued and encouraged. It’s not only about celebrating big achievements but also recognizing and appreciating small wins and milestones along the way.

This not only sustains employee motivation for change but reinforces the connection between desired behaviors and positive outcomes. When rewards and recognition systems are closely tied to the new culture it creates a reinforcing loop where employees are more inclined to adopt and champion behaviors that drive its integration into the fabric of the organization.

Sustaining a Positive Culture

Of course simply changing organizational culture is not enough. It takes time for a new culture to establish itself and there is a danger that old habits and expectations slip back unnoticed over time. It is even possible that your successful new culture needs to change further as your business grows and develops, and expectations change. You must always be prepared to manage:

Monitoring Progress and Adjusting

  • Establish key KPIs and metrics to measure culture change.
  • Regularly review progress and adapt strategies as needed.
  • Be flexible and responsive to feedback.

Handling Resistance and Pushback

  • Understand the common reasons for resistance to culture change.
  • Have strategies for addressing resistance and gaining buy-in on hand.
  • Make use of other leaders and influential allies within your organization.

Fostering Inclusivity and Diversity

  • Embrace diversity as a core element of culture change.
  • Promote inclusivity and equity in all aspects of the organization.
  • Measure and track diversity and inclusion progress.

Successfully transforming a legacy culture is a huge achievement with many benefits for your business from improving morale, to encouraging innovation. This has a positive impact on your talent acquisition, retention, and profitability.

As a leader you play a crucial role in shaping the future of your organization through cultural transformation. While the journey may be challenging, the rewards are worth the effort. Transforming your legacy culture is an investment that can yield enduring benefits, shaping your success and resilience for years to come.

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Alyssa Thach

Alyssa is the Co-Founder and CEO of Pierpoint. She plays a key role in the continued growth and overall business strategy. Her people-first approach builds loyalty, resulting in 94% client retention for Pierpoint. During her 20+ years in recruitment, Alyssa delivered talent solutions that increased revenue growth for Fortune 500 companies worldwide. She is an ambassador for EDI with a passion for helping businesses and people reach their full potential.

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