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Creating a culture that works - The 5 step model

Following this model and implementing each of the five steps below will help you establish a robust and well understood culture within your organisation. It does not govern or influence the type of culture you wish to develop but instead focuses on the key elements necessary.

The 5 step model

Each of the 5 steps contribute equally to the establishment of an effective and clearly understood culture. They are inextricably linked and all must be place in order for the culture to be effectively conveyed, understood and most critically adopted by the individual team members and wider organisation. We will look at each step in turn and explore what must be done, and by whom, in order ensure the effectiveness of the culture.

Step 1 - Identify

As simple as it sounds, you must take time out to identify what the organisation, business unit, department or even at a team level is about. The most important first question you must answer is, “What is its purpose?” Naturally the wider organisation will have an overarching purpose/ mission which in turn, usually comes with prescribed values, behaviours and ways of working and these will hopefully be consistently cascaded through the organisation. However, in reality, this common purpose or goal can often get skewed as subtle differences of interpretation are applied, particularly as it may not naturally fit one particular division or even leader’s personality or agenda. It is therefore, dangerous to presume that you know what this is without having the solid evidence to back up your assumptions. The simple test of the pervasiveness of an organisation’s goals/purpose is simply to ask those around you. You will no doubt find that the understanding isn’t as clear as you might have expected. In these situations it is worthwhile going back to the highest level of agreed documentation as your plum-line when establishing the culture. Remember, your culture needs to convey and support the purposes of the organisation. Even if the people around you can’t recite the values (although, that is always helpful) they do need to be able to live them out.

Step 2 - Articulate

Before being able to assess whether or not you, and those around you, are living out the corporate values and reflecting the culture that you want to establish, you need to first clearly articulate what great looks like. In the same way and when you explored the purpose and the differences it can highlight in terms of understanding, it can become even more complicated as this cascade widens out to a greater number of interpretations. You must therefore spell out what you’re looking for. This can be expressed in various ways including the articulation of values or behaviours. The terminology is secondary and dependant upon your desired level of granularity however, what is vital, is being very specific of what is required of all who are asked to represent these agreed ways of working and promoting the organisation. Once you have spelled it out clearly, you also have a fixed reference point in which to refer your team (and yourself) to the expected standard. Making the articulation of your values, behaviours and general ways of working clear and part of your normal working practices essentially puts everyone on the same page.

Step 3 - Demonstrate

As a leader of the business or indeed a manager of a team reporting into you, your role is critically influential in regard to the adoption of the culture. The demands and requirements placed upon you are far more significant than if you were an ordinary member of the team. Consistently demonstrating what you have articulated to your own ways of working, will for many, be the acid test as to whether or not you are serious about what you are asking of others. In establishing a culture that works for your business, you cannot expect others to do what you are not prepared to enter into. Not only does this set yourself apart in a negative light but inadvertently, you are creating a sub-culture from the one you’re talking about, to the one you’re living out. Your leadership is weakened in this duplicity and you are, in effect, giving people permission to behave just as you do, which may not be what you’re looking for.

Step 4 - Gather

Whether the culture you’re trying to embed is newly defined or something to simply be reinforced the resources of your team are also another vital element to its adoption and full integration. Like most teams, you will have people who are at varying stages of acceptance and promotion of the culture. Some will be true ambassadors who can be trusted to promote, endorse and instil the culture you’re looking for into the workplace. So strong is their support, illustrated by their attitude, approach and behaviours, that you would be confident that they could be make convey that culture from a starting point. They are true Ambassadors in this sense of taking a piece of the desired culture and replicating it elsewhere. Other members of your team may be less accommodating and may even act in a counter-cultural way. At the extreme, these are the Detractors whose behaviour makes the promotion increasingly difficult as they are actively, albeit sometimes unintentionally, working against the culture. The affect of this behaviour is damaging regardless and puts a strain on your efforts. By assessing your team, you will start to understand where they sit on this spectrum and be able to build action plans to either support and enable more of the behaviours you want to see and identify and put a stop to those you don’t.

Step 5 - Reinforce, Recognise, Reward

Establishing a culture is never an it

em on your “to-do” list that can be checked off. It is never really completed and needs constant reinforcement. True there may be many things that need to be put in place that support the creation and positioning of the culture you’re aiming for. However, if left alone, the initiatives will attract contempt and become invisible if you do not pay regular attention to them. In many ways, the culture is a bit like the engine of the car. You don’t need to peer under the bonnet continuously to know it’s working but you do need to provide it with regular attention and fuel in order for it to work successfully. There are many ways to provide the essential reinforcement, including how you use your physical working environment, noticeboards, ceiling hangings etc. In regard to your collective working practices give some consideration to things like meeting management and the use of structured and well designed communications. Even your processes should not be excluded from the attention and question as to whether or not they support or contravene the culture you're seeking to instil. The key to reinforcement is to make your culture as pervasive as possible and to have as many visible touch points as possible.

Recognising the culture when it’s lived out in others is another powerful way of reinforcing the behaviours and values you’re looking for. Celebrating that recognition often cements it into the minds of the individual but also those around them. Again, this is not a “do once” activity but takes multiple opportunities for it to become the norm. By our nature, we grow blind to the familiar and it often takes an external perspective to remind us of the things we’ve become too used to. Initiatives of both a formal and informal way that support the culture are viewed more seriously if they are linked with a tangible reward. Connecting behaviours, values and the demonstration of the culture you’re looking for rewarding often also creates the talking points during and often outside the workplace. We all want our teams to think and talk positively about their workplace. It demonstrates an increased sense of engagement and ultimately gives people the essential sense of belonging to something greater than themselves. In turn, this provides a healthy stability for the organisation, motivating and retaining those staff who will support the organisations’ goals and be conveyors of its purpose. Establishing the right culture is something that has to be intentional and deliberate. Whilst it may be a soft skill that many avoid and leave to its own devices to simply evolve, after all, there are strategic priorities and targets to reach. If however, the culture is left unattended it may will start to bear unwanted fruit, causing greater management distraction. Establishing a culture that works is essentially a fundamental task of an organisation’s leadership that world class organisations are smart enough to treat as a priority.


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