When a Company Changes its Culture, Communicators Play a Critical Role

Changing an organization’s culture is a daunting task. It requires comprehensive planning, both internal and external research and outreach and integration with all departments.

“The topic of ‘culture’ is a big animal,” says Leila Siman, director, employee engagement communication at ITT Corp. “First you must recognize that a culture already exists, what the culture is and if you are satisfied with it. If not, what will you do about it?”

So how does a company that aspires to be a Zappos (customer service), an Apple (innovation) or a Patagonia (environmental) achieve those types of winning cultures? And how can communicators help to enhance the process?

Let’s be clear: a culture change isn’t a pure PR play, Siman says. “Culture starts at the top, but it has to be reinforced every day through leadership across the organization, and supported by clear goals and objectives,” she says.

Michael McDougall, managing partner at PR agency McDougall Travers Collins, thinks of PR’s role in a culture change as serving as a business partner with the senior leadership team and other stakeholders. That’s not to say PR takes a backseat in the partnership. “PR’s role in setting expectations as to what’s to come and telling the stories of wins along the way is essential,” McDougall says. “Only in doing so can the organization gain understanding and buy-in from essential influencers and employees at large.”

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