The Key to Cultural Transformation

If you want to change your organizational culture, change the stories you tell.

Post-pandemic, organizations are still struggling with how workplaces operate. Much of the discussion has been focused on the “where” of work—i.e., remote, in-office, or hybrid. But the focus now is on how to put the organization back together to create a strong company culture.

The culture of an organization is the “tapestry” that weaves people together or the “glue” that makes people feel connected. Culture is about how employees feel about each other and the work itself.

So how can leaders create a culture where people want to work? Frances Frei and Anne Morriss in the Harvard Business Review article, “Storytelling that Drives Bold Change,” posit that storytelling is a powerful tool for cultural transformation. Based on their extensive research, “Storytelling has a remarkable ability to connect people and inspire them to take action… When your organization needs to make a big change, stories will help you convey not only why it needs to transform, but what the future will look like in specific, vivid terms.”


When people can “see” the change you want to happen, they can strive to achieve it. Frei and Morriss identify steps in leveraging the power of storytelling:

  • Understand your story so well you can describe it in simple terms.
  • Respect the past. Preserve the best and improve the rest.
  • Clearly communicate the “why” for the change.
  • Describe the positive path forward so people know where they are going.

If you want to change the culture, change the stories you tell and start the storytelling at the top. Since senior leaders are always being watched, it is critical that they model the change needed in the organization. Also remember that repetition is the key to learning. Once the new story has been solidified, tell it at every opportunity—town hall meetings, team meetings, and one-on-ones. Find creative ways to tell the story using a variety of mediums. Some people prefer to read a message, others need to hear it, and some need to see it. Have fun mixing up how to tell the story.

When you think you have shared the story enough, share it again. The story becomes the new narrative you want all employees to share. The power comes from having a unified understanding of the vision for cultural transformation—who you are, where you are going, and why it is important. Then employees will feel as if they are part of the tapestry—working together so the story can become the organization’s reality.

Jann E. Freed
Jann E. Freed, PhD, is an author, speaker, coach, and leadership development consultant. Her forthcoming book is “Breadcrumb Legacy: How Great Leaders Live a Life Worth Remembering” (Routledge Publishing, 2023). For more information, visit