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Added by Craig Steel
Culture as a performance enabler

Organisational culture can be described as ‘the inherent ideas, beliefs, and values held within an organisation’.

Male seated at desk and female standing, both looking at a computer screen

Organisational Culture can be described as ‘the inherent ideas, beliefs and values held within an organisation’. The reason an organisation’s culture is significant is because it influences the mind-set, and thus the attitudes and behaviours, of those working for or on behalf of that organisation.


While the majority of executives might agree, it is regrettable how few regard their culture as a differentiator in a market sense and as a consequence, fail to gain the benefits they otherwise would if they chose to view it differently.

For this reason, I believe it is imperative companies consider their culture as an enabler of performance otherwise it is likely to remain an impediment to future growth and improvement i.e. most companies are, in my opinion, impeded by the way their people think rather than liberated or enabled by the mind-set their people experience (that said, a culture is always both i.e. it has enabled the said company to get where it is, but if it remains the same, it will inhibit future advancement).

If we were to use a sporting analogy, we would realise that what sets the best teams apart is the culture they embody (or mind-set they experience) and thus how they function as a unit. By that I mean how they think about themselves and their capability and as a consequence, how they play the game; not in terms of their game plan per se, but how they perceive themselves as a team and thus their ability to back themselves in order to execute their plan.


The relevant point I wish to make is that every company could, if it was prepared to commit, create a culture that enables every person employed to step up to a higher level by teaching them how to think in a way that fits the brand. If they did this, they would be able to leverage the potential of their workforce far more effectively in order to deliver the outcomes they are after rather than just trying to encourage their people to do more without equipping them with the goods to do so.


The fact of the matter is, very few companies consider their culture as a ‘performance enabler’. Rather they see their culture as being ‘what it is’ irrespective of the value it adds; meaning they are unlikely to do anything to change it as they see it as part of the furniture. If on the other hand, an Executive Team chose to view their culture as an impending game-breaker, they would understand its significance and thus improve it in a way that matters.

For example, if a financial institution such as a bank said they wanted to try and win additional market share, the target market they were after would have to see a reason to change in order to make the switch. If however, the bank in question was to assume the only way it could attract new customers was to come up with the next technological breakthrough, non-customers are likely to assume that it will only be a matter of time before their bank comes up with the same thus negating the need for them to change in order to experience the benefits of that particular feature. If however, a bank were to explore the subject more deeply, they would probably come to realise the reason people are reluctant to change is not that it is difficult to do (as most banks have successfully demonstrated) but because they don’t expect what they will get will be noticeably better than what they are accustomed to so why on earth would they bother i.e. they are likely to assume the culture will be more or less the same irrespective of where they go meaning there will be few material benefits of making such a change other than the banking carrots hung out to tempt them in the first place. 

For this reason, if a bank was serious about delivering a step-change in its performance in order to win new customers, it should consider its culture as being the most relevant feature (as the rates, products, and services offered by their competitors will be more or less comparable) meaning the only way they can differentiate themselves as a business is to improve the way their people act and behave towards their customers; hence the reason I believe culture is the only sustainable point of difference and thus a company’s primary performance enabler. Unless managers in this instance are prepared to engineer a step-change in the way their people think, they will not improve their attitude or behaviour - nor their performance or productivity – meaning they will be unable to improve the value they add to customers in terms of the quality of their offering or engagement irrespective of their potential.

How to improve it?

At the risk of repeating myself, improving an organisations culture requires an improvement in mind-set in order to improve the attitudes and behaviours staff demonstrate internally and more importantly, towards their customers. The only way a company can successfully facilitate such a change is to either change the mind-set of their staff by changing the way they think (via a change in culture) or if push comes to shove, changing those they employ. While this may appear harsh, it is vital it is understood otherwise the benefits a company can gain will only ever be marginal.

Because all human beings have the potential to advance, and more often than not the desire to, I believe it is entirely appropriate to assume all will want to step up if engaged by the leaders they report to and are in turn successfully enabled. The key to achieving such an outcome is to think about how you want or need your people to behave to deliver your strategic objectives and then invest your time and energy equipping them with the tools to do so. To justify such an intervention people will need to see the wisdom of what you are proposing so they understand the importance of taking the idea on board. The problem many encounter, however, as a result of how they position the conversation tends to lead to one of two likely outcomes; either 1) the company doesn’t follow through because it appears too hard to achieve which in turn causes staff to lose faith in the organisations leadership and thus its strategic aspirations or 2) people feel judged by their manager’s suggestion and as a consequence disassociate themselves from the idea and instead try to prove them wrong.

For obvious reasons this requires companies to get the positioning right. In order to achieve this, I recommend they use our Structural Integrity Framework™ (SIF) to manage the roll-out successfully.


Our Structural Integrity Framework™ consists of:

Strategy > Structure > Capability > Culture


The purpose of this framework is to enable managers to share with staff what the organisation is trying to achieve and why certain things must be done. For example, if a company said they wanted to achieve xxx as highlighted in their Strategy, they would need to ask themselves the question ‘How do we need to be Structured in order to realise our strategic vision?’ In other words, the structure an organisation adopts should only ever be implemented because the leadership team believes it is the best configuration they can come up with to deliver their strategy within their specific market and/or at that particular time. After they have agreed on a structure, they should then ask themselves ‘what Capabilities do our people need to execute our plan as intended?’ Again the skills and capabilities a company requires, and thus the training and development they invest in, should come about as a result of identifying the core competencies they believe their people will need to deliver their strategic objectives. Once the capabilities are understood, the company can then ask themselves the question ‘How do we need our people to think and behave in order to deliver the outcomes we are after (Culture)? In fairness, the process is unlikely to be managed as precisely as I have outlined however the nature of the questions I have presented are the ones I believe companies need to answer if they want to improve their competitiveness.

The point is, an organisation’s culture i.e. the attitudes and behaviours people demonstrate, must be absolutely congruent with its strategic vision and commercial aspirations if it is to deliver its desired outcomes. If people act or behave in a way that is at odds with the brand position, they will undermine the company’s efforts to deliver the intended plan.

Once the above have been identified, the next stage is to ensure each person understands their purpose in the business and thus the strategic relevance of their role in terms of the overall game plan. It is only by working through this process that a company can optimise staff engagement but in saying that, those who take the time to pursue such a path will discover the value and power of high-level staff performance.

The way we recommend companies approach this is by following a deliberate and systematic roll-out of a formalised strategic template to ensure everyone in the business is given the opportunity to not only understand where and how they fit, but what they need to ‘become’ to succeed in the company’s future. If you would like to know more about this section, please contact us on +64 9 522 9409 or and refer to our Strategic Performance Template (SPT).

Once the attitudes and behaviours i.e. the brand values have been identified, managers need to be tasked with the responsibility of not only embedding them within their teams but bringing them to life in an operational sense. The reason this is so rarely achieved is because managers tend to have little understanding of the key attributes that differentiate the brand in the market and as a consequence are unable to facilitate such a conversation with their people and instead infer it as a responsibility of HR. If however, a company wants to advance i.e. out-perform its competitors, managers need to understand that ‘improving the performance capability of their people’ and ‘building a high-performance culture and attitude to business within their people’ are what leadership is about and therefore where the future is at for we know anyone with the technical skills can manage a function or department; hence the reason they all do it, but very few ever learn how to provide their people with the leadership required to build a true high-performance culture.


In other words, achieving a ‘cultural’ pass in a performance review shouldn’t remain an automatic ticking of the box as it currently is in most businesses. It should be regarded as a key leadership attribute that needs to be prioritised to ensure anyone who is responsible for driving growth and performance takes it on board in order to learn how to do it well to take the company forward.



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