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Culture, is often one of the trickiest aspects of leadership to navigate.

Most likely, because it’s perceived to be so tricky, it’s often overlooked, discarded, or worse still, treated like the icing on the cake, not the cake itself!

It often falls into the category of; ‘too hard’, or ‘needs too much time’, so never (if rarely) gets the priority it quite rightly deserves.

Definition of culture; The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.

In other words culture in organisations, is ‘how do things get done around here’.

If I was a fly on the wall in your office, what would I notice about how things got done?  Who or what makes decisions? How psychologically safe and free do people feel to try new things, give feedback to others, speak truth to power? What do your leaders spend most of their time doing? Is there a good balance of talking and listening? Are decisions made consultatively or top down? What are the things which are given priority; people, profit, planet, partying? 

We’ve all heard the famous saying “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. In other words, you could have the best strategy in the world,  but if your people (their behaviours, values, beliefs, attitudes) aren’t behind your strategy, the best strategy in the world alone will not help you succeed.

I read recently in the book Love as a Business Strategy (Anwar, Danna, Ma, Pitre), that ‘behaviours eat culture for lunch’.

I’ve seen this a lot in my work. Organisations go to the effort to define their vision, values, ways of working (typically created in isolation from the wider business), then scratch their head as to why people are not embracing it. Behaviours are what bring cultures to life and they take time, care and persistence.

It’s easy to get drawn to the lure of a quick fix, but I’d do that at your own peril. Your people will sniff out a sticky plaster approach at ten paces and you won’t see good employee retention as a result.

10 things NOT to do to enhance your culture

  1. Do NOT…Define your culture in isolation from your people. They will rebel or go slow or just avoid it altogether
  2. Do NOT… think that a healthy workplace culture = yoga and fruit box. This is the worst kind of ‘can’t be arsed to do it properly’ approach which will leave your people feeling like a cheap afterthought in your business
  3. Do NOT… implement a suggestion box, say it’s confidential and then try to figure out who said what. This will destroy trust and you will be left to mind read (which is currently scientifically impossible fyi)
  4. Do NOT… take your culture thinking to the pub. At the heart of culture work is human psychology and behaviour. Pubs and drinking do not cultivate a safe environment for this kind of work. It’s kamikaze at best.
  5. Do NOT… assume. Full stop the end. As in, never ever ever assume anything about your people or your culture. It will bite you on your bum. Talk to them, ask, enquire, discover. 
  6. Do NOT… do all the talking and dominate in discussions around culture. As a leader you should be doing the majority of the listening and if your people aren’t forthcoming in talking, you need to find better questions or work on trust.
  7. Do NOT… ‘do as I say not as I do’. You must be a role model for any culture change you want to see. NO ONE IS EXEMPT. Especially not leaders. Same goes for one rule for your favourites and another for everyone else. This will bring about a second level rebellion and Princess Leia will tell you off.
  8. Do NOT…take over the process and dominate. This does not encourage empowered workplaces and you may as well be working on your own in an office of one! Culture is a team process
  9. Do NOT… assume that once your first draft is done and embraced by all, that’s the end of it. Culture is something you work on continuously and should be the number one item at all your meetings (especially your board meeting). If the culture isn’t right, your performance will suffer.
  10. Do NOT… feel you need to do it alone. There are lots of experts out there who can support and guide you (especially in the first phases of discovery and exploration).

I love all things culture, and I’m always up for a natter about workplace culture. If you think your business might be ready to review it’s culture and ways of working, why not treat me to a brew and pick my brains about where to start? Email

If you’re ready to start your culture journey and want to take a temperature check of your current culture, ready our blog, Ten Questions to improve your workplace

And if you’re ready to get up and at em with enhancing your culture, then ready our Guide Your roadmap to outstanding workplace culture