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How to Create Lasting Change at Work: The Technical vs The Cultural


Creating lasting change is no small task. Still, it’s frustrating when most organizations fail to create the sort of lasting change that is the hallmark of effective social justice and DEI work—and the reason why is complex.

If we were to boil it down to the simplest answer possible, it would be that organizations hyper-fixate on the technical while leaving the cultural unaddressed.

What does that mean, exactly?

Let’s use a relevant example to unravel this phenomenon. One of my clients works with a large organization, and that company recently found itself in a problematic situation.

Why Technical Solutions Fail Without Cultural Change

Usually, governors will order their states to lower all the US flags to half-staff after an injustice or tragedy. It shows that we are in mourning or distress, and it is a sign of respect.

This was the case after George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020. His death sparked a widespread awareness of and push-back against police brutality and racial violence. Although the Black Lives Matter movement was officially founded in 2013 and the human rights movement long before then, 2020 became a year when organizations could no longer ignore the glaring racial injustices in America.

Well, this particular organization did not lower its flag as a response to Floyd’s murder, and many members of their community responded as you might expect. There was distrust, confusion, irritation, frustration, and outrage.

Why would a major organization that claims to stand behind BLM not lower its flag?

In this case, the answer was a simple technical error. No one decided they weren’t going to lower the flag. It was a detail that slipped through the cracks.

So, they created technical solutions to avoid this problem in the future. They created a collection of forms, put in place new systems for flag-lowering, and clearly outlined who was responsible for this task.

Although this was a technical error, there were cultural implications. And their technical solutions didn’t solve their new problem: growing distrust in their community, which now saw leadership on the wrong side of history.

A trauma-informed approach includes the technical, but the more important area of change is the cultural.

Cultural Change in Practice

The technical solutions didn't solve the problem. So, what would a cultural solution have looked like?

A trauma-informed coach would encourage leadership to release an authentic statement to their community. This public document would:

  • admit to making a specific mistake

  • acknowledge the hurt they caused through that mistake

  • apologize for the damage done

  • reassure the community of their values

  • reassert their stance on social justice issues and community needs

  • remind their community of their goal of creating safety at work (if they have one)

Although it seems like a simple solution, it’s difficult for many leaders to admit to their mistakes, acknowledge the damage done, and mend relationships.

I’d be lying if I said it was easy for individuals to accomplish this same task in their interpersonal lives (and while that struggle arises from trauma responses—it can also cause trauma responses in others).

Having these conversations is a small part of what it takes to create a safe space. Safe spaces are not devoid of mistakes and pain. But those who create safe spaces are quick to remedy these mistakes, make amends, and move forward.

Here's a sample of what that apology letter might look like.


If you’re ready to create lasting change in your organization now, book a free consultation to learn about your options from a trauma-informed specialist.

And don’t forget to download our Guide to Trauma-Informed Implementation, a free resource that takes a deep dive into trauma-informed key concepts and practices.

Shenandoah Chefalo

Chefalo Consulting


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