Culture: Creating a Workplace Worth Working For

Culture is a very popular word right now and words are easy to weaponize.

While we are no culture experts, we have been lucky enough to be part of a handful of culture transformation projects.

When you get down and dirty with clients and truly become a passionate partner to their success, you learn a lot purely by doing and experiencing it. As Richard Branson would say,

"The best way of learning about anything is by doing.”

As you look to improve your culture in the future years, here are a few important pieces we have learned once the decision has been made with the future values and associated behaviors having been articulated:


Culture is a CEO and Executive Team Problem

The moment you “hand” it to HR, employees will start to question it. Whose culture is it anyway? The Executive’s. They are accountable for culture. It must start top down, and leaders must lead by example.

Make it simple!
Our brains have limited capacity and are terrible at multitasking so don't make it too complex. If your employees don't understand it, they will question it. Be clear on the what, why and how. Especially the why.

The people in
 your company already have the answers 
Don’t steal their autonomy and creativity. Find ways to give them a voice in your future and have a say as to how your organization’s values are embodied.

Shifting a culture take
s time so have empathy for your people
You are asking people to form new habits and re-wire years of "this is how we did it". Be patient and leverage the science of learning. The AGES model by the Neuro-leadership Institute, and reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, will give you greater context for how hard it is to change a habit.

Self-awareness is not self-created

For change to happen, people first need to know what they need to change. They need to see how ineffective their old habits are and without a dose of self-awareness that there is need for change, most will think they already are doing what you are asking them do to or resist what you are asking them to do. As Tasha Eurich says in her book Insight

"Self-awareness is the meta skill of the 21st Century."

Blissful ignorance and unconscious incompetence are costing you millions.


It takes lots of energy

New habits die young. You need a robust leadership development plan that starts with the Executives modelling the way forward. If they don’t do what they say, it leads to cultural debt. This goes back to the employees questioning the priority and commitment. The moment there is grey area, you lose momentum.

It takes a lot of resources

To change the way people think and act goes beyond a few town halls, an eLearning tool to the masses, a powerpoint presentation delivered by HR, flextime, fun Fridays, and some generic training. It will need heavy investment in both money and time. It’s about what people do, not what they say. To quote Maya Angelou,

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

It takes commitment
Your organization needs to buy into the movement as a whole. And not just the good behaviors and values, but also calling out the bad. Hiring and firing should be based on the aspired culture. From our initial research, it appears that social pressure is the principal contributor to behavior change. Leverage peer to peer accountability and call out bad behaviors, and in some cases, let go of those not on the bus. The moment you do that, people take notice. If you "let" people behave counter to the culture, the employees will question it.

Just because we’ve done it this way since the day of dawn, it doesn’t mean it’s right
Don’t let cultural norms blind you or be an excuse. Be empathetic as to where people are located, but if it’s your culture, then it’s your culture no matter where you are in the world. For example, we teach a course on feedback. If one of your values is to provide candid feedback, know that in some regions of the world this is opposite of the norm. That doesn't mean they are right or wrong, it’s just how they have done things. This does not mean they can't do it, but it might be harder for them to change.

In all of this, apply Carol Dweck's work on growth mindset to everything you do
A fixed mindset is the belief that I am born this way and there is nothing I can do to better myself. A growth mindset is the belief that through effort, grit and determination, I can always improve. You can apply the same mindset to your culture.

For 30 years or more, we have had to endure the fact that “creating shareholder value” and “the drive for results” was the focus of many of our businesses and thus became the cultural norm. Values were either based on this or were just writing on the wall.

The good news is that the modern workplace is changing, and those that change with it will not just survive but thrive. If you don’t focus on the people who get the results, you’re setting yourself up for long term challenges as we are producing less babies coupled with the fact that there are now more job openings than people to fill them. 

Remember, the power is in the hands of the people.