Cultural change is possible!


Every organisation has a prevailing culture, a product of:

  • the values and activities to the organisation
  • the markets in which it operates
  • the behaviours and attitudes of those that work for the organisation

This culture is very “sticky”, making change very difficult as the change must be sustained with high levels of enthusiasm and motivation long enough for the old culture to fade into the past and the new ways of working to become the prevailing norm.

Successful cultural change

As a result, examples of successful cultural change are hard to find, but Riyadh Airport have achieved it. I have been travelling to this airport since 2015 and in only 4 years I have witnessed a complete transformation in attitude and actions by staff in all roles.

I hope this article gives you a flavour of some of the changes, and how exciting it is to see real cultural change come to life.

Get the basics right

As with all cultural transformation, the airport started with the tangible elements:

  • Furniture and equipment
  • Processes

Furniture and equipment

In the departures and arrivals halls, there has been significant investment in Passport Control, with new desks, camera and scanning equipment to speed up evaluation of travellers against their passports. Everything looks new and up to the minute in terms of facilities offered.


There are new greeting procedures at both departures and arrivals. Staff are responsible for guiding passengers through Customs, Security and Passport Control to keep the crowds moving and make sure everyone knows where they are supposed to be going. These processes have been designed to maximise customer service and there is a real feeling that it is passenger satisfaction and not what is good for the staff or airport that is key to how things are done now.

 Attitude is the real key to success

But the key thing is the change in attitudes and behaviours. There has been a huge change in attitude of all the staff you meet in the airport. Prior to the changes, staff were not welcoming, often looking unhappy with their jobs, and doing things “only because they had to”. Now there is a prevailing attitude of excellent customer service. For example, the warm welcome and willingness to chat to tired passengers displayed by those in the arrivals hall guiding people into the right queue for Passport Control. The other night, I was waiting to put my bags through the scanner. I was waiting in the queue with 3 other people (so not a long queue) when one of the Customs Officers opened up another scanner and waved us over to reduce our waiting time. No-one told him to do this. He decided of his own free will that the queue was getting long and that this was not the welcome that he wanted for passengers to his airport. So he put in the extra effort and started making things happen.

This is the true sign of the cultural change, this energy and enthusiasm to make the process of travelling through the airport the best it can possibly be. It is really exciting to see staff who were not previously pro-active taking a pride in where they work and a delight in creating a good experience for passengers. The change in atmosphere is amazing, instead of dread when you get off the plane, there is a feeling that I am entering a professional work place, where I will be treated with respect and kindness.

The tangible changes to the working environment through the investment in furniture and equipment, and the development of processes with the customer experience at their heart are triggers for this change, but it is the hard work in defining “what do we want to be” that has led to the attitude change.


All of us are involved in cultural change, as it is the end goal of all our transformations. For more help on this complex subject, I have written guidance in Agile Change Management, or sign up for my newsletter for more resources.


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