Three tips on using culture to transform your business

Organizational culture, or the way a company does things, takes all shapes and sizes. Culture can be based on flexibility, great workplace perks or traditional core values. Other elements of culture lie beneath the surface such as perceptions, unwritten rules and norms. Your culture impacts the way you do business.

Not long ago, the nonprofit sector was excited about mobile giving. And today, individuals and organizations attract attention through crowdfunding. Our industry is ever-changing, and the pace of transformation is faster than ever. For this reason, United Way of Greater Cleveland has adopted a culture of continual change.

How do you use ingrained culture to transform how you serve your client, audience or community?

Help or hinder

Culture enables successful change when the proposed change integrates the current culture. Management can use existing energy and team commitment to transform the work.

If your business culture encourages employee-led initiatives, expand the reach from holiday party planning committees to cross-functional teams focused on implementing needed strategies. This special project team, led and comprised of staff members with varying expertise, is an efficient method to implement the ancillary tasks needed to transform your business.

On the other hand, culture can hinder transformation when change is not aligned with the normal strategic flow of business.

If your culture is based heavily on hierarchy, peer-led initiatives may not be the best approach for successful transformation. Instead, develop change strategies to mimic the pulse of the organization such as allowing management to lead projects and include members of their team in the execution stages.


People resist change particularly when fear of the unknown exists. To successfully transform your business, strive to instill a culture of transparency to deal with questions of job status and roles and responsibilities.

Address looming concerns among your team with one-on-one and small group discussions combined with other forms of communication to thoroughly share the rationale for change.

Mistrust is a top reason new initiatives fail. Use transparency to build or enhance a culture of trust between management, staff members and external stakeholders. Involve interested parties in planning stages by asking and answering questions and incorporating their suggestions. 


Although transformation is often initiated by leadership staff, the rest of the team should feel ownership and inclusion in the change. Tap into employee expertise by creating a culture where employees are invited to contribute to change tactics outside of their normal assignments.

When transforming your business, foster a culture of staff members who “want to” vs. “have to.” Mandates from leadership will deter the desired change. But team members who raise their hand to help with the challenge will have more passion for the project and ensure change occurs.

Successful transformation needs culture, with all its pieces and parts — attitudes, beliefs and practices —  to thrive. Research shows more than half of change initiatives are unsuccessful. This is due, in part, to organizations utilizing strategies unaligned with company culture. To transform your business to better meet the needs of your client, audience or community, acknowledge and capitalize on your organization’s culture.

Bill Kitson, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Cleveland, is committed to advancing education, income and health by engaging community members to give, advocate and volunteer. To learn more about how he shifted United Way to turn outward, contact him at (216) 436-2101 or [email protected] For more information, visit