The culture hierarchy

13 June, 2016

We’ve established that posters are killing internal values and organisational rituals help people to embody your culture every day. But what else are great organisations doing that OK organisations aren’t? How are they behaving? What play book are they following? How do they define and then create a culture where people deliver on the organisations most fundamental beliefs every day?

Over the past five years we’ve observed a distinct difference between how the great organisations we work with behave and the OK organisations. The great organisations seem to follow a similar pattern, and continue to reach higher levels of engagement. The OK organisations reach a certain point, and are not able to push past that point. 

This pattern of behaviour has led us to develop the Culture Hierarchy model. It demonstrates how great organisations behave and the path they follow to create distinctive and high performing cultures.

This is how great organisations behave:

The goal is to move from the bottom to the top. You can only move up to the next level if you’ve delivered on the level below.

The goal is to move from the bottom to the top. You can only move up to the next level if you’ve delivered on the level below.

Step one: OWN
Great organisations have leaders who make culture their number one priority and move it beyond a superficial KPI. They realise the ROI of culture is difficult to measure but they innately understand the environment and that culture determines the health of their organisation. These leaders own their culture and decide to lead by example and encourage people to reciprocate.

Step two: DEFINE
The great organisations realise that defining their values and purpose is not a consensus building exercise and they must set the fundamental beliefs before they engage the wider business Organisational expert Patrick Lencioni, famously said: 

"Values initiatives have nothing to do with building consensus—they’re about imposing a set of fundamental, strategically sound beliefs on a broad group of people"

I was once involved in a project where the leadership group organised an all employee workshop on values. They asked staff to suggest what they believed the company's values should be. Throughout the day this organisation collated people’s opinions and then communicated to the whole organisation the top five values they’d uncovered. Two months later the leadership team presented the final values back to the whole organisation and none of the values from the staff made the final cut. This caused huge cynicism amongst staff. Did their opinions actually matter? 

Remember, defining your values, purpose and vision is not a consensus building exercise. As leaders you set these fundamental beliefs, and then encourage your people to live up to them and bring them to life each and every day. 

(Ocean Brand&Culture have developed The Values Deck to fill a need for a tool that helps leaders define their organisation's values. Click here to find out more).

Step three: COMMUNICATE
The OK organisations we work with define their values, purpose and vision, and then default to traditional internal communications tactics to reinforce them (posters, newsletters and announcements etc.). The great organisations create as many moments as possible for their people to have conversations about their values, purpose and vision. Instead of one way communications and big reveal presentations, they design ways for their people to have two way conversations, which helps to uncover people’s opinions and stories. They then feed back what they discover to the wider business. 

This feedback loop is an essential aspect of storytelling, recognition and engagement within your organisation. Through this process, you help your people understand: why it matters, what’s expected, how they can live up to them, and reinforce the bright spots within the organisation.

WARNING: This step is the ceiling for most organisations. The natural inclination of many leaders once they reach this step is to continually create new ways to communicate the same (but different) messages over and over, in a one way manner. The great organisations move past this step and integrate their values and purpose into everything they do.

Step four: INTEGRATE
Great organisations integrate their values and purpose into everything their organisation does, from rewards, meetings, hiring, people development, strategic partnerships, operational decisions etc. They intentionally design ways to integrate purpose and values into day-to-day interactions with customers, staff and stakeholders.  Great organisations create internal rituals that reinforce the culture, values and purpose (as we’ve previously discussed here). This moves culture beyond the superficial. 

Step five: LIVE
Great organisations create ways for their people to live the culture on a daily basis. Every interaction with a client, customer and staff member, right down to how your team approach editing the home page of your website should be guided by your culture. Your purpose and values should be used as a benchmark for your people and the decisions they make on a daily basis. But you can only get to this step if you’ve delivered on each step below.

You can only reach this step once you’ve decided culture is the number one priority, your people have embraced a shared set of values, purpose and vision, and you’ve integrated them into everything your people and the business does on a day-to-day basis.


The Culture Hierarchy model 

Some organisations and leaders follow this model naturally. For others, it doesn’t come so naturally but it’s something they can learn. Our hope is that our culture hierarchy model will serve as an inspiration and guide for those leaders who want to take their organisation to the next level.  

The goal is to move from the bottom to the top. You can only move up to the next level if you’ve delivered on the level below.

The goal is to move from the bottom to the top. You can only move up to the next level if you’ve delivered on the level below.