Are you sure you have the culture you want? How can you tell if you’re getting full engagement, reluctant compliance or mere lip service from your staff? Do you know what’s really said around the water cooler?

Even the best of us overestimate the openness of the cultures we create, underestimate the challenges for employees to be forthright within them, or underrate how quickly cultural shift occurs.

Simple things can forge a gap between the culture we think we have (or would like to have), and the one that really exists. Most often, this occurs from genuine misunderstandings rather than disingenuous behaviour but both have an impact; whether it’s a tense manager unintentionally drifting from the company’s core values, an executive with a personal agenda or simply mixed messages in communications. All can misdirect your culture and increase the gap between what the workforce can deliver, and what it does deliver.

It is not the superficial behaviours that dictate whether your workforce fully engages with your objectives – it is their deeper values, which often remain hidden.

Here are three insights you must uncover:

  • Who’s MOST IMPORTANT? – Is it the customer, the company, the individual, the shareholder, everyone or another group? At a large healthcare organisation, most staff operated with the customer (or patient) as the most important. But one long serving employee genuinely felt she was the most important because of the professional advice she gave patients. This seemingly innocuous difference in values had a huge (but hidden) negative impact on customer satisfaction because her patients felt their dignity was not being respected. After a short feedback and training session, the employee was then able to align her values with the company’s towards patient needs, and began dispensing her professional advice with more empathy and customer focus.

  • What do Your Staff FEEL? – Staff (or customer) reactions include their fears, hopes, emotions, ideals, rights and duties. These feelings dictate their level of engagement with all of the company’s strategic objectives, but they remain hidden for lack of an appropriate channel to capture these insights. The healthcare organisation spotted low dignity levels among a group of patients and were able to trace this pattern back to the one employee. For example, staff might fear that a new proposal might adversely impact the group they have identified as most important, or feel they have a duty to act in a certain way, or that a particular right should prevail. All of these raise questions they need answered, or suggestions they would like to voice but will often shy away from sharing their feelings. If nothing is done about it, it is at this point that engagement may become reluctant compliance.


  • How do Your Staff THINK? – For most companies, this is the starting point and they discuss objectives or issues rationally and openly, but resolution is often difficult because people take sides, thoughts become entrenched and silo mentality kicks in. This is because their values and feelings have not been taken into account, and yet these are the very things that create understanding and unity. If nothing is done about them, it is at this point that reluctant compliance may become lip service. In the healthcare organisation, had they tried only to discuss their patient complaints issue rationally, they may have missed the key determinant creating the problem. Having access to powerful insights (and analytics) into staff values and feelings enabled them to build consensus, align employee values with their organisational objectives and enhance creative teamwork to deliver better solutions to their customers.

Take all three steps into account when you do your next cultural audit. It will allow you to create the culture you need in order to meet your strategic objectives.


Omer Soker is a forward-thinking, pioneering general manager with success in business transformations and company turnarounds, who consults on staff engagement, core values, cultural audits, leadership and commercial strategy. He is the author of The Trust Future, Australian distributor for the Values Exchange software and publisher of Leaders of the Future Economy; a planned new resource to showcase Australia’s most forward-thinking, 21st Century organisations.

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Comment by Valerie Panayiotou on August 23, 2013 at 11:36

The only way to find out what your staff really think is to measure what they think. If you have an objective measure of their preferences and values you can then see exactly where the mismatch is. It is without saying that you need to have a measure of the current operating culture of the organisation, otherwise you cannot do any form of comparison or evaluation.

Every behaviour can be measured and it is through behaviour that culture is displayed. If you haven't measured and evaluated, then how do you know what needs to change? More importantly, how do you know when change occurs?

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