“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”: The Importance of Cultural Analysis
Before Embarking on Equality Diversity and Inclusion Programs.
Peter Drucker’s famous quote outlines an especially pertinent concept for equality,
diversity and inclusion [EDI] efforts. A company culture analysis provides invaluable
insight into which EDI efforts should be prioritised and are most likely to succeed,
creating positive momentum for otherwise complex change.
Importance of culture for EDI
The stuff of and between people, organisational culture is difficult to define. The
broad agreement is that it is a nuanced and complex phenomenon that happens
when people come together. Sometimes described as (acceptable) ways of
behaviour (1) , it is the unwritten (2) norms, habits of thinking (3) , visibly championed values (4) , rituals and celebrations (5) that make up a working organisation. Research shows that
company culture can greatly influence equality, diversity and inclusion so
understanding the culture can really help with finding the most effective EDI efforts.
For example, despite overwhelming evidence of benefits for both employers and
employees, the take up of flexible working can be severely limited by a culture of
presenteeism (6) . Research has also shown that a climate for racial bias activates
implicit racist attitudes (7) so that a basic human need to “fit into the culture” can
activate explicitly biased behaviours.
Unfortunately implicit bias is something we all have but don’t always know when it is
being actively applied [look up Implicit Association Test by Harvard University to see
what yours are]. But, research also shows that if you provide people with the right
tools, negative stereotyping and automatic bias can be reduced. For example, a
training technique called Situational Attribution (8) can help workers frame their
perceptions of those who are unlike them to remove any implicit bias.
How to better understand organisational culture
A quick internet search quickly illustrates just how popular this subject is - and how
many companies are trying to make money out of selling their tool! However, it
needn’t be an expensive exercise. Indicators of culture can be found informally and
formally: from the conversations over the water cooler to staff engagement survey
feedback or the complaints process. A small, well-informed, representative working
group could also self-asses your company culture using a tool like the OCAI:
Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument – a free, research validated tool that
can also be rolled out to many people (at a cost). A wealth of tools like this are
Sometimes we may need help from those outside our culture to make this
assessment. EDI consultants often cover this remit and can have both the tools and
people skills to provide an accurate and fair assessment of culture, whilst keeping in
mind that this is about a positive change not criticism. A very successful EDI
consultant I interviewed for my own research described his role as “holding up the
mirror in terms of the existing culture”.
What does cultural change involve?
Equality, diversity and inclusion are inevitably part of organisational culture, and
efforts to address EDI issues are often seen as levers for positive organisational
cultural change. Viewed through this lens, any EDI efforts that are implemented are
more likely to be successful.
A cultural change can be viewed as a long term program of change. A successful
freelance EDI consultant offered her assessment: “You have to, kind of, be in it for
the long haul… you just have to bake it into the fabric of who you are as an
A number of helpful models for actioning cultural change are also freely available.
One such tool is Balogun and Hope Hailey’s Change Kaleidoscope (9) , a framework
that poses a number of critical questions around which an organisational cultural
change can be planned.
Taking it forward
Once a culture assessment and analysis of the change are completed, you can
consider how best to implement the change. Balogun and Hope Hailey’s Change
Kaleidoscope also provides a number of considerations for the change path, start
point, style, target, levers and roles which could prove useful. Some questions to
- How should we initiate the change so it makes sense for our organisation?
Top-down or bottom-up? Pilots? Recognition of good practice?
- What is the style of management for the implementation of change? Do we
create a crisis or sell an opportunity? Do we coerce or encourage highly
participative and collaborative approaches? Which approach with which
- What do we want to change? Behaviours? Attitudes? Values? Outputs?
- Which interventions make sense? Process change? policy change?
Communication and education?
- Who will led and support the change? Who will facilitate it? Who will own it?
Who will communicate about it?
It should be mentioned that the role of the leader any cultural change is significant,
and EDI efforts are no exception. They have a role in creating accountability,
embedding values and role modelling desired behaviours (10) . So before launching into
any EDI efforts or when there is an opportunity for reviewing them, it is helpful to get
endorsement for a small working group (including a senior champion) to do a culture
assessment and align this with equality, diversity and inclusion aspirations for your
This article is part of a series based on research which involved interviews with
global equality, diversity and inclusion professionals on what it takes to deliver
successful EDI programs and how EDI consultants can bring value. To see or
discuss the original research or for more information on any of the references,
please contact the author on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ivana Vasic Chalmers, Working in strategic planning, risk and governance in higher education, Ivana works with leadership and the Board to develop frameworks, programs and process to support the strategic plan. A passionate advocate for equality, diversity and inclusion, she has led equality initiatives and teams, published research on the subject and works pro-bono for a start-up focused on improving lives of working parents and their children. Having lived in the Balkans, South Africa, the Middle East and United Kingdom, she is fascinated by the effects of culture on gender parity.
1 Goffman (1959).
2 Schein (1968).
3 Hofstede (1991)
4 Deal and Kennedy (1999)
5 Deal and Kennedy (1999)
6 Monks (2007)
7 Ziegert and Hanges (2005).
8 Stewart et al (2010).
9 Balogun et al (2016). Balogun, J., Hope Hailey, V. and Gustafsson, S. (2016). Exploring Strategic Change, 4th
10 Schein, E.H. (1968). Jacobs, B. and Barabino, M. C. (1999). Rutherford, S. and Ollerearnshaw, S. (2002).
Monks, K. (2007).Taylor, C. (2005). Hunt, V., Prince, S., Dixon-Fyle, S. and Yee, L. (2018).
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