IF SOMEONE were to ask you to work on your organisational culture today, what would you do?

Would you plan a major cascading programme?Implement practices and policies of other successful companies?

Or question the relevance of culture to the success outcomes of your organisation?


Common questions

As a business consultancy, our firm often receives questions from C-suite officers and human resource leaders about leading and sustaining culture:

n “A culture can develop on its own. Why should I spend time, money and effort on measuring and building it?”

n “Can’t I simply implement the same policies as Google? They are successful and attract the best talents. So their policies should work for me too…”

n “But how do I measure culture? It is intangible.”

n “Is culture similar to values?

In this article, I hope to inspire you to think about your approach to your organisation’s culture.

In the year 2000, a reputed Australian Bank used the suite of Barrett’s Cultural Transformation Tools (CTT) to determine its current and desired culture and began to work on a programme of cultural transformation.

Between 2000 and 2004, the level of employee satisfaction rose from 49 per cent to 85 per cent. The shift in culture was accompanied by a significant improvement in shareholder value and profitability.


Four guidelines

Organisation culture is a fundamental driver of your organisational performance. But it is complex, dynamic and also unique to individual companies.

To manage it, you must take a conscious, system-wide and long-term approach. Here are four tips to building a high-performance culture:



 Define your unique culture

There is no “perfect” culture. When Ms Marissa Mayer left Google for Yahoo to be its president and chief executive officer, many thought she would replicate Google’s culture wholesale.

She did not. The buzz is back at Yahoo: Better financial results, talented people joining where they used to shun and noteworthy firm acquisitions.

The question one has to answer is: “What is the culture that will best enable our organisation outcomes, at this stage of our journey?”



 Remove inhibitors to change

Are there dysfunctions within the culture in the form of leadership and people conflict (such as silo mentality and information hoarding), systems (such as bureaucracy and hierarchy) and procedural mis-matches?

The presence of these dysfunctions usually creates “negative energy” that runs counter to all positive efforts put in.

Ask, “What is the level of dysfunction and how does it impact our achievement of outcomes?”



 Align leadership traits
and behaviours

Do you have leaders who say they support the espoused values, but do not walk the talk?

Very often, the differences in beliefs are not so apparent at the leadership level. However, if one is to experience the culture at the operational level, behaviours exhibited can vary a fair bit.

To illustrate the difference in beliefs in how values are operationalised, Apple has chosen to adopt the belief in empowering “abundantly” people whom they trust and “sparingly” for those who have yet to gain its trust.

Yet, in other organisations, we know of senior leaders who will not empower anyone unless they are absolutely sure.

Where is the consistency within the organisation?

Values (empowerment) unite; beliefs divide (abundantly, sparingly or “prove it”).

Ask, “What is the set of effective people leadership behaviours (not aspirational) that will guide leaders of the organisation now and for the next two years?



 Nothing measured, nothing done

Many people view culture as “soft” and not measurable. How then can we know if we have progressed in this journey of cultural transformation?

Organisations worldwide and in Singapore have used Barrett’s CTT) in their transformation journey and also as a tool to measure movement towards the desired culture.

As they progress, they are also able to track if the level of dysfunction has decreased.

If you are given the mandate to lead your organisation’s culture, follow the above guidelines to nurture a high-performance environment.


Article by Vincent Ho, director of aAdvantage Consulting, a business consultancy firm that  partners organisations in leading their business and organisational transformation from “vision to results”. For more information, visit www.aadvantage-consulting.com/solutions/culture-development