Dec 10 Changing Behaviors to Activate a CX Cultural Transformation 

It’s common for leaders to identify culture change as a key to customer-centric transformation and, ultimately, growth—and it’s just as common for culture change initiatives to fail. In a global survey of over 7,000 professionals by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), only 15% of respondents reported that their organizations had achieved highly successful culture transformations. (1) 

If culture change has such a high failure rate, how can leaders—or anyone—effectively move people to change? 

Before we dive into methods and tactics, it’s essential to define what we mean by ‘culture change.’ One of the fathers of organizational development, MIT professor Edgar Schein, defines organizational culture as the following:  

A set of basic tacit assumptions about how the world is and ought to be that is shared by a set of people and determines their perceptions, thoughts, feelings and, to some degree, their overt behavior.

He goes on to explain that “culture manifests itself at three levels, the level of the deep tacit assumptions that are the essence of the culture, the level of espoused values which often reflect what a group wishes to be ideally and the way it wants to present itself publicly, and the day to day behavior which represents a complex compromise between the espoused values, the deeper assumptions and the immediate requirements of the situation.” (2) 

In our experience, when an organization seeks to change its culture, leaders don’t always start at the deepest layer of challenging their underlying assumptions that drive behaviors. When they do, they have a much better chance to succeed. For example, the CEO of a health insurer who openly states for the first time that his organization is not in the product but the service business is challenging a set of long-held beliefs on how things ought to be (and how they ought to get done.)[3]

More often, leaders attack culture change by changing the espoused values of the organization. An organization might institute “Customer-centricity” as the highest order strategic imperative. Having started in the middle of Schein’s pyramid, this approach will often expand to the visible elements of culture, new slogans on walls, for instance. But it will often fail to change each team member’s behaviors meaningfully and fail to change culture altogether. Since a leader cannot merely prescribe behavior change, how exactly do you go about it?   

Designing for Behavior Change  

BJ Fogg is one of the founders and foremost thought leaders in behavioral design, having started the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab and the Stanford Behavior Design Lab. From his teachings and our own experience as practitioners, we have developed a perspective on activating culture change for CX transformation.     

To change a behavior, you must first understand that behaviors are affected by three key elements: motivation, ability, and trigger. As humans, we need the motivation to change. We need specific knowledge, skills, or tools to make that change. Last but not least, we need something reminding us of our intention to change.    

Consider this example: a large organization wants to enable ‘culture change’ to become more customer-centric in its approach to designing and delivering products and processes.  

To help lead this transformation, here are the high-level steps we would advocate to take:    

1. Align on the aspirational culture

The first thing you want to do is define the elements of the ideal customer experience for your organization. Who are similar organizations where you can draw inspiration? Start by encouraging organizational stakeholders to identify other companies who they feel are the leaders in this arena. You might hear some familiar names like Disney, Amazon, Nordstrom, etc. Have people know the attributes, behaviors, values, and processes that you believe make that company a leader in CX. What are the elements of their culture that drive a great customer experience? How does their culture support their business model? What has worked and not worked for them?  

2. Define your desired behaviors

With the aspirational state in mind, the question becomes, “What behaviors within our organization will get us to that end goal?” Here, you want to be as specific as possible. Answering the question with, “Care more about CX” or “Focus on developing a better CX strategy” or “Talk about CX more” is not specific enough. Think about the following formula to enable behavior change: behavior = actor + action + context.   

To get to a precise identification of desired behaviors, identify all of these elements. Who is/are the actor(s)? What action do you want them to take? What’s the context of that action? To do this, you can use personas to help you identify the answers to these questions across the whole organization and at every level. The transformation will not happen if the behavior change strategy is isolated to managers or front-line employees. At every part of the organization, ask yourself the following: who are our actors (team members), and what role do they play in our CX transformation? Even better, go on an internal listening tour to help you understand your team members’ needs, motivations, and pain points in delivering on the future CX vision. 

Define specific behaviors like this: For senior leaders, we want ongoing conversations in our operating reviews and ultimately see support for allocating a percentage of budgets to drive CX activities during annual strategic planning.  

3. Enable new behaviors

Once you have identified the desired behaviors, dig into tactics that would help drive these behaviors. As we mentioned earlier, each behavior you want to enable has a motivation, ability, and trigger component. So, for our example, your motivation might be improving Net Promoter Score (NPS) —you want to isolate what behaviors inside your organization that drive customers to be advocates for your organization. In addition, make sure that you have clearly identified which CX projects to fund and that you have to buy in from stakeholders. To keep on track, you might trigger the desired behaviors by including a section in your monthly operating review that asks each leader to report out on progress against those CX initiatives. This simple prompt is the trigger your leaders may need to follow through as it reminds them of what they’ve committed.    

Creating culture change across an organization will always be tricky. Still, if you understand the power behaviors play in transformation, we believe you are working on a critical aspect to be successful.  



[1,2] Schein, E.H.(1997). “Three Cultures of Management: The Key to Organizational Learning in the 21st Century”. The Society for Organizational Learning.

[3] Q&A: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota’s Craig Samitt on using risk to drive change, Modern Healthcare, March 9, 2019. 

No matter what barriers are hindering your innovation, we can help you accelerate through them.