Calls for culture change abound. Headlines regularly feature calls to change the “broken” or “toxic” cultures of institutions and organizations, and people debate which norms and practices across society are now defunct. As people blame current societal problems on culture, the proposed fix is “culture change.” But what is culture change? How does it work? Can it be effective?
This article presents a novel social psychological framework for intentional culture change — actively and deliberately modifying the mutually reinforcing features of a culture. Synthesizing insights from research and application, it proposes an integrated, evidence-based perspective centered around seven core principles for intentional culture change:
- Principle 1: People are culturally shaped shapers, so they can be culture changers;
- Principle 2: Identifying, mapping, and evaluating the key levels of culture helps locate where to target change;
- Principle 3: Culture change happens in both top-down and bottom-up ways and is more effective when the levels are in alignment;
- Principle 4: Culture change can be easier when it leverages existing core values and harder when it challenges deep-seated defaults and biases;
- Principle 5: Culture change typically involves power struggles and identity threats;
- Principle 6: Cultures interact with one another and change can cause backlash, resistance, and clashes; and
- Principle 7: Timing and readiness matter. While these principles may be broadly used, here they are applied to the issue of social inequality in the United States. Even though culture change feels particularly daunting in this problem area, it can also be empowering — especially when people leverage evidence-based insights and tools to reimagine and rebuild their cultures.