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Defining your workplace culture

What is your ideal workplace culture? 

When we meet with leaders and work with organisations, they are very clear on the workplace culture they don’t want – which is often the one they have. But we often find that those leaders have not put as much thought into defining and quantifying their ideal workplace culture, the one they are striving for. 

Achieving an ideal workplace culture is like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – the closer we get to it, the more it moves, which is an excellent thing because achieving the ideal is not important – simply striving for it makes workplaces better.

What we can be sure of is that achieving an ideal is impossible if it isn’t well defined. When we tangibly describe our ideal culture, we can use that to guide choices that are consistent with the ideal. And to highlight options that aren’t. 

As you remember from previous articles, workplace culture is the sum of all the choices people make every day, at every level – micro choices. When we are clear on the workplace culture we are trying to create, we can steer people towards and reward options that are consistent with that culture. And we can disincentive choices that are not consistent.

A leader can define their ideal workplace culture in many ways. Some organisations sit down and have long rambling and philosophical discussions as they try to wordsmith specifically what their workplace culture should look like. Words are important, but that is not the approach we recommend.

Another option is to use psychometric tools, and we have available some great tools that will help you define your ideal culture as well as to measure your actual culture. While this is the most ‘scientific’ approach, it isn’t the only one that works. My goal in this article is to give you tools that you can use on your own. 

If your organisation has values, at least at some point, even if those values are not lived today, even if people don’t behave consistently with them, those values represent a version of what you considered ideal or a version of what someone within the organisation considered to be the ideal culture. 

While that can be a good starting point, a better starting point is to have values that actually do mean something that is lived. If you don’t have lived values, that is something we will cover in the next article – and I strongly recommend you focus on as a priority. 

Why do your values help define ideal workplace culture? We described values as our promise to each other. It is my promise to you, as my colleague, about how I will work with you, how I will communicate with you, how it will feel to come to work.

On their own, values are not enough to define the ideal culture – those values have to intersect with your philosophy. You might use different terms – a mission or a statement of purpose. By philosophy, what we mean is our promise to the people we serve. 

That can take many forms, but in our organisation, it is a simple statement. Our promise to the people we serve is that people deserve great workplaces, and workplaces deserve great people. That is why we exist. 

When we look at the intersection between our values and our philosophy – where our promise to each other and our promise to the people we serve meet – that is our ideal culture. Any behaviour, any choice, any action that is consistent with both those things simultaneously, is an action that will take us closer to our ideal workplace culture. Any action that is not consistent should be a disincentive because it’s an action or a decision that will take us further away. 

Now you have a starting point – to identify your ideal culture, look at your values and also your philosophy, whatever words you use to describe it. Once you know what your ideal culture is, you can start to observe things that grate, the things that are not consistent with that ideal culture – and then you can begin addressing them, but that is a topic for another day. To help you do this, you might like to watch our What is Authenticity animation here  or click the image below.


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