4 Things Not to Do When Trying to Change a Culture

How long did it take for this page to load on your screen? How long would you have waited before you just moved on to another blog?

We live in a culture that expects immediate results and instantaneous gratification which has resulted in lower patience levels, higher anxiety rates, and even worse, not being able to enjoy the time between the demand and the delivery.

What happens when it’s not just our home page needing to load, but it’s our culture that needs to shift? Forbes magazine once stated, “Changing an organization’s culture is one of the most difficult leadership challenges. That’s because an organization’s culture comprises an interlocking set of goals, roles, processes, values, communications practices, attitudes and assumptions.” 
The article also said, “Changing a culture is a large-scale undertaking, and eventually all of the organizational tools for changing minds will need to be put in play. However, the order in which they deployed has a critical impact on the likelihood of success.”

When I first arrived in Lethbridge, the church was in need of a major culture shift. I had underestimated the factors involved, and more importantly, the amount of time it would take.

Here are four things not to do when attempting to shift the culture in your organization:


Most experts estimate that it takes between 18 months and three years for the culture of an organization to shift. With that kind of timeline and with the many facets within a culture, I would encourage you to start with a Keystone Factor.

The Keystone Factor of your organization is the one factor that, when shifted or implemented, affects all other factors. For myself and my team, we spent months meeting every week pulling apart our current culture, evaluating it and comparing it to the culture we had dreamed of.

We asked ourselves, “What are the values and attributes of the church we see in our hearts? What kind of church do I want my kids to grow up in? What problems in the community are we called to solve?” These questions forced us to rethink everything, to dream, and to be held accountable to uphold that dream. It took a huge investment of time, but then again, anything worthwhile does.


Leadership is a funny place. Everyone expects you to have the vision and ensure the vision is producing results, but as leaders, we are rarely taught how to “share the vision.” Habakkuk 2:2 reads “Make the vision plain.” But it doesn’t just stop there. It goes on to say “So that others may run with it.”

When implementing change that affects your team, involve your team. Top-down vision with no buy-in from those implementing it only creates a short lifespan for the vision. Your team will eventually lose steam if they haven’t been involved in the process from the beginning. People desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves. You’ve heard the cliches; “There’s no “I” in Team” or “Teamwork makes the dream work.” Yes, they’re cheesy, but they couldn’t be truer.

Open the door for discussion, ideas, and push-back from your team. It’s healthy, progressive, and promotes buy-in.


We recently have adopted a saying in our church, “That’s not how we do things around  here.” Once you have established your culture and set values in place, it can’t just be words hung up on the wall. It must be lived out.

Accountability takes place when winning is rewarded, mediocrity is challenged, and losing is penalized.

We call fouls when a team member makes statements that shrug responsibility like, “That’s not my job” or, “That’s good enough.” These types of phrases promote mediocrity, erode team collaboration, and eliminate personal accountability. On the other hand, what gets celebrated gets repeated. When you see someone living out the culture, be sure to take notice and reward them appropriately.


Nothing becomes dynamic until it becomes specific. In my first pastorate, I created a bad habit of changing too quickly. I would attend a conference or read a great book and be inspired by an idea and implement it immediately. Most of the ideas were good. The problem wasn’t the idea itself, but the implementation. Each change greatly affected the team and brought confusion. They had just implemented the last idea and here I came with a new one. That all stopped when one day, one of my leaders asked a question in a public meeting in which I was casting the vision of my next great idea, “How long are we going to stay with this vision”?

Ouch! Talk about taking the air out of the room. I was devastated, but she was right.

As leaders, we are naturally impatient. That impatience is what pushes us forward, but it can also hold us back. Often we have so much vision that we either implement a new idea without clarifying all the expectations and details, or we fall into the trap of bringing in new vision before the team has had a chance to catch up to the previous one. Both methods are harmful. Know that when you start this process, you are in for the long haul. This doesn’t mean you can’t adapt or change along the way, but you must allow the vision, strategy and expectations to incubate with your team long enough that they can own it as second nature.

Culture is the heart of an organization. Every church has a culture and it happens by design or default. You can either intentionally design the culture you want or be a slave to the culture that happens by accident. It’s your choice.

What are some of the mistakes you’ve made trying to transition your culture?

Photo Credit: Austin Distel on Unsplash

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