Culture Utopia: the myths regarding engagement

Written by: Kim Yabsley | March 31, 2019

When we talk about ‘a culture of excellence’, we mean more than just some indefinable state of organisational utopia where everyone is happy, healthy and whole, and issues are resolved by lunchtime through hugging and group gratitude journaling. (Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that, if that’s what you’re into of course!)

Here are my favourite culture truisms:

1. Soft skills have tangible results

2. Culture can be measured

3. The motivation for behaviour change comes from developing real insight that links to outcomes

When contemplating an action plan to build better culture, it’s important to understand the following critical elements of building and/or sustaining improved culture:

• What is the root cause of current culture breakdowns?

• To what extend are you willing to engage with and listen to (with the intention of genuinely hearing) employees to gauge their day to day experience and ideas?

• How committed are you to making the changes and tweaks required to get results?

• What if these changes and tweaks require a fundamental shift in the way you lead?


“Culture is little more than the sum-total of our relationships…”


If I could provide you with a proven methodology to help individuals to develop insight, take-action and enhance outcomes you would jump at it right? But what if that framework required you to make organisational adjustments or to enhance your own self-awareness, would you still want culture change as much?

Many clients will recite the values of their organisation as a kind of proof of their culture building efforts, like a statement of commitment; as if your values on paper stuck on the wall demonstrate your initiatives in action. They don’t.

Organisational outcomes linked with improved culture, such as; increased engagement, better productivity, reduced conflict and absenteeism, better press, improved organisational narrative (because culture is largely built on shared stories and understanding of the environment we operate in), all start with asking your people what is going on for them. Listening to what they say and responding in a future focused, solutions oriented, collaborative way.

Culture is little more than the sum-total of our relationships so the more we invest in people, the more we develop human bonds, the better placed we are to resolve conflict, negotiate outcomes deliverables, agree on timelines, workload and role accountability. The more we communicate with clarity, the more purposeful we become in our actions.

When everyone on the team becomes more purposeful, communicates for outcomes and approaches issues in a respectful and collaborative way, enhanced outcomes are a natural side effect.


Kim Yabsley is an expert in change management and strategic review, using the Cultures of Excellence framework.
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