Leaders often struggle with culture. They want the organization to be more innovative, inclusive, or customer-focused, for example. What I have found is that they make some common mistakes: They have an “idea day” that generates excitement yet not change the gating factors for greenlighting new projects. Or they hand culture off to HR to “fix” yet HR only has so many levers to pull.

In my latest piece for strategy+business, I explore a more holistic approach. Chocolate chip cookies are a reminder that creating a desireable (and delicious) outcome requires attending to all of the possible variables:

To understand why a culture is either working or in need of repair, you have to understand the whole and the parts. Your organization’s culture emerges from the unique combination of your people, principles, policies, and practices — all of them — in your distinct operational context.

From that starting point, you need to see the system and see it as a living system. You can cultivate culture but you can’t dictate it. Accentuate the positive AND articulate the positive to reveal hidden opportunities and barriers. And don’t forget that change has to happen at the top as well as in the middle and at the frontlines. If executives at the top model the desired culture and behaviors, change is far more likely to happen.

I welcome your reaction to the story and your culture change stories.