Tag Archives: culture

How important is culture?

According to Human Synergistics “Culture is the way that things are actually done in an organisation.” It includes shared values and beliefs, ways of thinking and norms or expectations of behaviours in the workplace.

Many of our business leaders would be thinking; that’s great (sounds like a bit of HR fluff) but what we really want is results.

Culture is vital to organisational success because it is the principal driver of performance related behaviours throughout the organisation. By creating a constructive culture, organisations can achieve and sustain high performance.

So how does culture come about?

Organisational cultures can be changed, and they can evolve over time. However the major driving force behind culture is actually leadership.

“Leaders set the agenda for the environment in which others operate, and people behave in a way that reflects the impact of their leader. Organisational culture is transformed through managing organisational structures, systems, technologies and the skills and qualities of leaders.”


So if leadership is going to drive the culture we want, which will then elicit the desired performance from our people- what are you doing to engage your leaders?

**Human Synergistics is hosting the 11th Australian Conference on Culture and Leadership in 2009. Visit the website for further information**


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Company Values: Lessons from Enron and One Tel

Recently I was reading ‘Make your Values Mean Something’ which talks about organizational values, what they should be and what is needed to really embed them in your culture. It is a frank article as the author says “If you’re not willing to accept the pain real values incur, don’t bother going to the trouble of formulating a values statement”.

It starts out asking you to review the following corporate values.

Communication. Respect. Integrity. Excellence.

These sound pretty solid and quite similar to other values statements you may have read.

These were actually the values of Enron whom Fortune named “America’s Most Innovative Company for six consecutive years. Employing around 22, 000 people and claiming revenue of nearly $101 billion in 200, Enron filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and the “Enron Scandal” rocked the world with their creatively planned accounting fraud. In addition to being the largest bankruptcy reorganization in American history, Enron undoubtedly is the biggest audit failure. Not much integrity or excellence going on there.

It made me think about organizational values and whether most are formed by what execs feel should be what the company represents, rather than what it actually is. Are companies really living and breathing their values? Are the values really guiding every decision that is made?

Could you pass the Enron test?

More locally, anyone recognise ‘the Dude’ below?


This company used this scruffy surfer to demonstrate that anyone could get a mobile phone, even a lazy layabout. The offices were decked out in electric blue, sunflower yellow and lime green walls featuring ‘the dude’, with a different theme for every floor. The walls were also peppered with motivational messages from beliefs and values such as ‘Add and create value in everything you do’, ‘make it better’, ‘Give your opinions’ ‘A happy team means happy players’. These were the values of One Tel.

Despite these values about making it better and creating value, the corporate culture was rife with fraud in trying to artificially inflating customer numbers up in order to secure bonuses from places like Optus. The following is an excerpt from Paul Barry’s Book on the One Tel collapse.

One long-serving member of the One.Tel team swears that at the end of 1997 he was asked to do a special job: “One of Brad Keeling’s deputies explained that One.Tel was falling short of its Optus targets and that there was a $500,000 bonus to be earned if we hit it.” Keeling then found the young man 10,000 to 15,000 existing One.Tel customers and told him to mail each a new SIM card, complete with new mobile number.

The young team member hired an army of casuals to stick SIM cards on to slips of paper and put them into envelopes. For several days on end they worked until midnight. They did not bother to wait for people to ring in and say they wanted their new number. The casuals simply activated the SIM cards on the computer before sending them out, which automatically connected each one to the Optus network, thus counting them all as brand new connections (source Paul Barry).

I think most of you would agree that this is an extreme example of a company where the values are just for show, but there are hundreds more organisations out there that just stick the values up on a poster and expect employees to live by them. It just doesn’t work that way.

Some key tips:
• Leaders at the top MUST lead by example, living and breathing the values in EVERYTHING they do.
• Ensure your company actions reflect the values statements. Base rewards and recognition programs, recruitment and selection and talent management strategies on them, and stick to it even when tough decisions need to be made.
• Provide training on what the values mean, what behaviours demonstrate your values and what people should do if they see someone not living the values.

Does your company live and breathe by its values and are they truly embedded in the culture?

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Do you encourage a coaching culture?

Recommended Reads:
Lindbom, D. (2007), ‘A Culture of Coaching: The Challenge of Managing Performance for Long-Term Results’, Organization Development Journal, Vol. 25, No. 2, p. 101.

In recent times there has been much emphasis placed on coaching in the workplace. Lindbom takes this further, arguing that there needs to be a strong organizational culture of coaching in order to fully support managers and provide regular performance feedback to all employees.

Lindbom says that culture is “the entire organization, its values, strategic goals, and the formal and informal systems in place that guide managers and employees in everyday work life”.

Essentially what we are talking about is a culture where people continuously receive and seek out feedback (formal and informal) in order to improve their performance.


So how do you make this happen?

Lindbom’s article places great emphasis on incorporating performance management and coaching into the core competencies and the strategic plan. This illustrates true top-down commitment and lays the foundation for success in quality people management. Similarly, much of the literature echoes this message insisting that widespread support for performance management from the upper management team is essential (Griffin. 2004) and that gaining consensus and buy-in from senior management early on in the effort can help establish legitimacy and visibility for the process (Fletcher & Williams. 1996).

Additionally, this then has the potential to increase employee commitment to the organization and its goals. Moreover, Ariyachandra & Frolick (2008) go further in articulating the term ‘Business Performance Management’ which facilitates the creation of strategic goals and supports the subsequent management of the performance to those goals. This concept highlights the need for performance management to be strongly interlinked with specific strategic objectives and key performance indicators or core competencies that are meaningful to the organization.

Finally, Lindbom highlights the importance of formal systems and informal networks in effective performance management and also the need to provide managers with the right tools, training and support to effectively coach and improve performance. With these components in place, in addition to the incorporation of performance management and coaching into the core competencies and the strategic plan, Lindbom argues that a strong organizational culture of coaching will be established resulting in supported managers and employees regularly receiving feed back on performance.

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