“The head of the organization was very important. If he or she made cultural change a personal crusade, it had a much higher chance of succeeding. If he or she treated it as one of numerous initiatives or delegated it pretty much entirely to human resources, success was elusive.” – John Kotter


John Kotter is the world authority on change leadership, and he fills his books with strategies and tactics for successfully leading change. Kotter’s released his most recent book, Change: How Organizations Achieve Hard-to-Imagine Results in Uncertain and Volatile Times during the global covid pandemic. In the book, Kotter dedicates a chapter to each of the different change initiatives, from strategic planning to organizational structure to culture change.

What Kotter discovered about culture change was that most interesting to me. He learned that most attempts at culture change were not very successful, and the reasons were unclear. However, he did notice a pattern critical to successful cultural change initiatives – an invested leader, someone at the top of the organization who has made the initiative a personal crusade.

How do you make culture change a personal crusade?

You start with being explicit, giving voice to it, telling your staff why you want to see the culture of your organization bend in this particular way. Then you start role-modeling, becoming an exemplar in the change you want to see, and acting as the evangelist for a specific set of values.

You have a shot at culture change if you can honestly embody that set of values, and you’re willing to talk about it, encourage people, and bring them to task in achieving that value in your organization.