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Changing Company Culture Requires a Movement, Not a Mandate

by Bryan Walker and Sarah A. Soule

Culture is like the wind. It is invisible, yet its effect can be seen and felt. When it is blowing in your direction, it makes for smooth sailing. When it is blowing against you, everything is more difficult.

For organizations seeking to become more adaptive and innovative, culture change is often the most challenging part of the transformation. Innovation demands new behaviors fromleaders and employees that are often antithetical to corporate cultures, which are historically focused on operational excellence and efficiency.

But culture change can’t be achieved through top-down mandate. It lives in the collective hearts and habits of people and their shared perception of “how things are done aroundhere.” Someone with authority can demand compliance, but they can’t dictate optimism,trust, conviction, or creativity.

At IDEO, we believe that the most significant change often comes through socialmovements, and that despite the differences between private enterprises and society,leaders can learn from how these initiators engage and mobilize the masses toinstitutionalize new societal norms.


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