Organisational Development

The Essential Principles of Workplace Culture

Published: September 4, 2015

Read Time: 3 minutes

680 philip oude vrielink

A senior manager of a public company once said to me: “We’ve done culture change this way before, trying to create what we think we should be, and it’s never really worked. We know culture is critical, though there doesn’t seem to be any alternative way.” Perhaps you can relate.

Though many leaders might recognise the importance of workplace culture, most remain confused and unclear about what it is and are hesitant about how best to work with it. Many leaders lack the required confidence in crafting a culture that both supports their strategy and the people their organisation serves. This is understandable. Much thinking and many approaches to culture are fragmented, overly complex, incomplete, and lack the depth needed to develop a complete approach that seamlessly aligns the relevant components in an elegant way.

Most people recognise that culture is critically important. However, most also admit that their level of clarity and confidence in how to influence culture – let alone create one that is optimally aligned with the purpose of their organisation – is extremely low.

Your engagement strategy

Ever found another organisation either consistently annoying or delightful to deal with? You are experiencing their culture. Not understanding your culture means not understanding how it affects the people your organisation serves (your customers, clients, practice members, and service recipients). Delighting customers is both good for them and your results.

Similarly, not understanding your culture means not understanding how it affects your employee engagement. Having passionate employees generates positive outcomes for employees and the organisation as a whole. Globally, according to Gallup research, 13% of employees are engaged. In Australia and New Zealand, that figure is 24%. This level of engagement is not just a problem for the lives of your staff, but also for your client and customer experience, productivity and results.

Consider: What overall experience of your organisation do people have?

Your productivity engine

Being out of sync is bad for business. Being out of tune with your internal and external environment – employees and clients – means you have a reduced ability to adapt. Those who thrive will have a complete ability to change – to positively adjust to external circumstances and to successfully integrate these internally. Culture matters because it significantly affects your organisation’s long-term economic and service delivery performance. A culture that matters most is one that best supports your business strategy. Organisations with a performance-centric, strategically aligned culture experience better performance and growth. The question remains though – what makes a culture optimal and how do you create it?

Consider: How well does your culture support your strategy?

What is culture?

Culture matters. You have probably heard someone say: “culture is how things are done around here”, but this definition is rarely informative enough to inspire effective action. To skilfully work with culture it is important to understand how it is caused and maintained.

Noble intent

In response to challenge and circumstance, people learn how to survive and grow, and in adapting successfully, what to communicate and how to behave. Methods that work and those that do not, are taught to others as the right and wrong ways of working. This successful adaptation is another way of describing resilience. When your culture functions optimally, your organisation will function resiliently.
Culture adapts to external circumstance and distributes what is learned for internal cohesion. In other words, culture is externally adaptive and internally integrative. Culture is what has enabled your organisation to thrive. If you are going to change culture, remember its original positive intent.

Consider: What was the positive intent for the culture you have?

This article was originally published in the Better Boards Conference 2014 Magazine.


Leadership and Organisational Development Consultant

Philip Oude-Vrielink is an authority on leadership, culture and change who helps organisations create relevant cultures that power the productive execution and experience of their strategy. He helps people deal with internal struggles to lead them to external success. Philip has worked in large systems design, project and change management, business transformation, leadership development and culture change. Philip is the creator of The Aware Leader, Important Conversations, Group Value, and Leading Legacy leadership development programs, and a range of integrated programs that support complete culture transformation and development. He is the author of Life On Purpose and Strategically Relevant Culture.

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