You can destroy an organisation’s culture a lot faster than it takes to build

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Available research as far back as the nineties[1] makes it crystal clear the importance and the impact leaders have in shaping organisational culture. In fact, organisational culture and leadership work hand in hand to shape, build, and enhance organisational performance. Which comes first has long been argued, however it comes down to choice; leadership can drive culture or culture will drive leadership.[2]

Last week, sadly I was able to see the practicality of this choice play out.

In 2011 the executive leadership group and the board of a company accepted the advice that culture is shaped and built from the top down; they made a conscious choice to bring simultaneous focus to building a constructive performance-based culture and leadership capability. Because both meant behavioural change, they also accepted that this development would take time; in fact one leader suggested the journey was more important than the destination.

Between 2011 and 2015 they focused on six development areas, one of which was culture and leadership. The areas of focus included but were not limited to:

  • Dedicated measure and quantification of the current culture and establishing a target culture.
  • A multi-tiered leadership program to increase leadership effectiveness.
  • Building self-awareness of leadership effectiveness down to supervisor level.
  • Agreeing and enrolling people at all levels in a clear vision, mission, and values.
  • Setting a clear five year strategy and agreed KPI’s.
  • A willingness to change the organisational structure and a number of key systems and processes.

Many may say this is all “text book stuff”. It may appear so, however it worked and it changed the culture which in in turn played a vital role in the execution and success of their five year strategic plan. I am not at liberty to share the metrics, suffice it to say I was able to review the comparative data sets. There were substantial gains:

  • Higher levels of customer satisfaction.
  • Attraction of increased revenue opportunities.
  • Number applicants for roles increased.
  • Staff turnover reduced.
  • Productivity increased.

2016 was an interesting year for the organisation because in mid-2015 there was a change in shareholding. A new and major shareholder made it known they had a clear focus for the future which did not include a continued focus on the culture and leadership development. Programs were terminated and funds directed to other areas as a new direction for the organisation emerged.

Roll forward to the end of 2016. Several members of the senior leadership group including the CEO have left the company for a variety of reasons. Those replacing the leaders who left have not sought to understand how the constructive culture was contributing to overall organisation, instead they are implementing their own process focused approach which is being met with resistance. Challenges such as increased staff turnover and absenteeism and lower productivity that were apparent prior to 2011 are beginning to reappear again.

Put simply, the culture and approach to leadership which took four years to shape and build has effectively been dismantled in eighteen months, which has played a large part in the loss of talented executives.

Viventé Australia enables leaders and managers develop the bond between people and performance, creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its best.



[1] Bass (1990) , Schein (1992) Kouzes & Posner(1995), Yukl (1998)

[2] Cooke & McCarthy Human Synergistics