Hearts and minds: How do you change the culture of a workforce?

Building the culture you want throughout your business can be hard - but changing it can be even harder. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto.

Building the culture you want throughout your business can be hard - but changing it can be even harder. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto.

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Changing one person’s mind about something can require significant effort – but how do you change the attitudes of an entire workforce?

Turning Factor director Kathryn Horton. Picture: Ian BurtTurning Factor director Kathryn Horton. Picture: Ian Burt

The demands on modern businesses – staff wellbeing, waste reduction, social responsibility, as well as fundamental profitability – can at times call for radical change.

When that happens, ensuring that the workforce has the same motivation for change as the management can be difficult. Likewise, middle managers may feel equally frustrated at getting those above them to listen to their concerns.

Understanding how to make change happen - and what to prioritise - can leave some leaders frozen in fear, even when they know what they need to do.

This is where the experts in company culture come in.

Turning Factor, based at Wensum Mount Business Park outside Norwich, specialises in changing hearts and minds at businesses and has worked successfully with companies employing as many as 400 employees.

The company’s agents start at the bottom of a business and work their way up a pyramid of steps to build, then build on, the foundations of change.

Former clients include Axa, Heinz, Adidas and the Shadwell Estate near Thetford.

James Howells, chairman of Turning Factor, said the one-size-fits-all approach to learning and development held some companies back in the fight for change.

“A lot of businesses only do part of the journey. We end up doing a lot of learning and development around organisational change at businesses where previous interventions have failed,” he said.

Managing director and founder Kathryn Horton has been working in the field of leadership for 13 years – and admits that shifting a culture is difficult.

“One of the things we are really interested in are the real issues under the skin of the business: growth, recruitment, succession. Our approach is, how is that impacting on the bottom line and how are your people impacting on the growth of the business? At the end of the day they are what causes your business to grow.

“It is about driving your strategy through people, not just process.”

Staff are most companies’ most valuable resource, but Ms Horton says they have the potential to “haemorrhage money” from an organisation through recruitment costs and redundancy payments.

“We want to turn people in alignment with where their company wants or needs to go. We help to develop a culture that will make you different from the competition and help you get to that next stage,” she said.

“Without the right culture you can still get to where you want to be – you can still open up those markets and sell – but how much has it cost you and how much pain has it caused because you have not invested in your people?

“I’m convinced if you put a line on the balance sheet showing the cost of people, more companies would take note.”

Turning Factor’s training methods require company leaders to decide the standards of behaviour they want from their teams and incorporate them into performance management strategies so they can be monitored.

This active role in developing the company’s culture can increase managers’ sense of “accountability” for maintaining it.

Ms Horton has observed a growing trend for businesses jettisoning staff who are not willing to change in line with company values.

She said: “You need to be very clear about what the culture is and the values are absolutely key because they are going to drive the behaviour.

“You will have people rebutting that who won’t want to go through the change. One of our caveats is that there may be casualties.”

She added: “A change in behaviour is attached to emotions and that can make it difficult. If you’re changing a process you can just do it. With this you have to have some difficult conversations.”

A common and relatively simple way some companies have tried to change their cultures is through the environment – by extending kitchens or adding games rooms – but Ms Horton said this kind of “low level” change rarely makes a lasting difference.

The Turning Factor method says moving to “the top” of the levels of staff engagement – from environment to values and vision – produces better results. Some businesses have cottoned on to the importance of this high-level engagement and now conduct “value-based” interviews.

Mr Horton says having any of these factors “out of alignment” will limit a business’s power to change.

“The higher the level you make the change at, the more likely it will stick,” she said.

“If you haven’t got those at the highest level on board it slows the programme down and can ultimately cause it to fail.”

Here are James Howells’ and Kathryn Horton’s top tips for cultural change at work:

– Have a clear vision and purpose of why you are making the change

– Communicate effectively: ensure everybody understands the benefits to them and the organisation

– Stop, look and listen: take the time to listen to opinion and don’t ignore it

– Engagement into change is not just a process, it is a serious commitment

– It could be challenging! Expect that some people will resist change and be prepared for it

Staff engagement is key to brand strength – HR strategist

Engaging people and ensuring their commitment to company values is key to building a strong brand, according to an experienced HR strategist.

Karen Thornber, from Norwich, has worked with Virgin Group and TSB and helped to build the brands of international names like Aviva and Marks and Spencer.

“Every business has a high dependency on people. How you engage with them and take them on your strategic journey is critical,” she said.

“It is all about emotional engagement – this reflects on everything from your external brand to how you attract and retain people.”

Ms Thornber believes that bringing employees on board with the company’s vision, taking and using feedback from them, and continuing to improve processes and innovate are crucial to ensuring a brand’s success.

She added: “There is a commercial rationale to this, as recruiting is expensive and you could lose intellectual property as people leave the company.”

This story forms part of our coverage for the Best Employers Eastern Region scheme. To find out more go to or

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