Culture’s Critical Role in Change Management

Written By Chris A. Maslin


Authentic Leadership

Organizational culture is sometimes mistakenly perceived as “background noise” – something that organically develops over time with no need of thought or intent. However, numerous studies have shown that culture plays an integral role in the success or failure of change initiatives. A study of more than 2,200 executives, managers, and employees conducted by the Katzenbach Center found that when transformation initiatives fell short, it usually appeared that corporate culture was an afterthought, and was not leveraged as a source of energy and influence during the change efforts. 

Assess Your Culture

At Biltmore, we believe that culture, whether positive or negative, will affect the buy-in, acceptance, and sustainability of change initiatives. When managing major changes to organizational structure or processes, you’ll want to make sure you consider ways to leverage your existing culture to promote the change. Here are some questions you should ask to evaluate your organization’s current approach to change:

1. Culture: Overall, does my organization lead, manage, and support change in an effective, energizing way?
2. Clarity: Does change typically occur here with a clear picture or vision of the intended future?
3. Input: Are the people impacted by the change actively involved in shaping the desired future, and identifying possible obstacles?

To leverage your existing culture as a change-accelerator, start by taking a holistic approach to change management, beginning with your organizational mission. 

Make Change Mission-Centric

The preservation of Biltmore Estate as a privately owned, profitable, working Estate.” – Biltmore’s Mission Statement

Inspired by Vanderbilt’s spirit of innovation, Biltmore is compelled to adapt, change, and grow, yet we continually harken back to our past.  While change is often associated with future progress, it’s imperative to stay connected with one’s history and foundational mission.  As Biltmore cultivates change within our organization, our mission is never far away.  

Biltmore’s mission, created by Mr. William Cecil, George Vanderbilt’s grandson, is a direct reflection of the vision his grandfather shaped for Biltmore over a century ago.  This mission informs everything we do, and serves as our north star as we continually adapt the company to changing times.  One of Mr. Cecil’s quotes is often repeated within the gates of Biltmore: “We don’t preserve Biltmore to make money; we make money to preserve Biltmore.”  This statement has influenced many decisions as our company has expanded, and it points us back to our organization’s ultimate purpose for existence – to preserve Biltmore for generations to come.

Remembering your organization’s foundational mission can propel you forward when change inevitably presents obstacles to overcome.  Embarking on an undertaking that changes the trajectory of the business can be intimidating, and postponing decisions and progress can be all too tempting.  When we connect with the purpose of our organization – the way it makes the world a better place – we are revitalized and reenergized to push forward through seemingly insurmountable challenges we may face. 

Consider this: As you embark on the next significant change impacting your business, take a look over your shoulder toward the past, and ask yourself: “how can I approach the next major change using my organizations’ existing culture, mission, and vision to gain buy-in?”

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Chris Maslin is Biltmore's Sr. Director of Talent & Organizational Development, overseeing the recruiting, hiring, and training of Biltmore's 2,400 employees.