‘In the end there are few things more important in any organisation than its culture’.Malcolm Turnbull, 14th September on being appointed 29th Prime Minister of Australia

Malcolm Turnbull highlighted what many new leaders going into an organisation recognise – the critical role of culture in driving performance.

Culture is about ‘how we do things around here’. It is the shared assumptions about what it takes to succeed and what is valued.

In any underperforming organisation, culture often plays a key role in its troubles and, as such many new leaders recognise the need to change the culture and set a path for success. The challenge facing any leader is that culture is not something that can be directly managed or easily changed. Rather, it is an outcome of a complex mix of:

  • What we stand for: Deep seated beliefs, history, purpose and values.
  • What we reinforce: Reinforcing structure including rules, policies, symbols and what is said to be important. What is rewarded, tolerated and punished.
  • What we do: Behaviour and actions of key influencers, especially the leader and leadership team members.

Faced with this challenge, some advice to Malcolm Turnbull and any leader wanting to improve an organisation’s culture:

1. Be clear on your purpose

Start with the organisation’s core beliefs and values; building your future culture on the key values of the past provides the strongest foundation. Telling the story of your core purpose and how your past has reinforced this.

2. Change the rules

Address policies, rules, structures and reward systems that no longer help. Instead introduce approaches that are more in line with the future direction.

3. Walk the talk

It is an old saying but few things drive culture like the behaviours of its leaders. Culture is reinforced by what its leaders do and what they are prepared to tolerate. The quickest way to change culture is through the actions and behaviours of influential people within the culture.

With a new leader there is great potential for change and renewal, however, leaders need to act swiftly to steer a course for the organisation’s culture. Too soon the leader is no longer new, and what is perceived to have been tolerated under his or her leadership is set in increasingly solidifying concrete, making culture change more difficult.

Together with Boss Magazine, Hay Group researched Australia’s Most Respected Companies for their culture. Spoiler alert: neither the Liberal Party nor Labour Party made this year’s list! Imagine however, how great it would be for the potential of Australia if, in the future, we looked to our political parties as the role models of high performing cultures.

Download the research report here

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About Contributor

Tim Nelson is the MD of Korn Ferry Hay Group in Australasia. He has more than 25 years’ experience executing global executive search and talent management solutions across the Asia Pacific region.

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