‘I want a big, hairy customer service culture throughout the whole organization and I want it tomorrow’, CEO to Executive GM, Sales & Marketing.

A direction that’s almost certain to fail, even to be counter-productive.

It’s counter-productive to set goals about culture and values, even when they’re supported by a project plan with actions and responsibilities. You cannot project manage a new culture.

Don’t misunderstand, it’s important to promulgate your vision and values. Just back them up with behaviours to match.

Culture and values are influenced mostly through ‘peripheral vision’, through actions and behaviours seen throughout the organization, not by plans. In any organization, values constitute an area where there’s always a background, low level of mistrust and suspicion. If a CEO says, ‘I want to highlight the values of honesty’ some of the staff will try to fall into line but many will ask, ‘What’s she up to; what’s the agenda?’ It’s like saying, ‘You can really trust me’; the general reaction to such a statement is, ‘What’s she trying to put over me?’

You will get values in place by both talking about them but more importantly by demonstrating them consistently, frequently and repeatedly. The board, the CEO, the management team, supervisors, everyone whose actions are seen by staff. You’ll get values in place through recognition. You will get values to grow by trusting people, by allowing for mistakes, by encouraging initiative, by being even-tempered and considerate. Talk with your senior team about their behaviour; are they displaying behaviours you are personally seeking to demonstrate.

Get the values right and the culture and morale will follow.

When you personally demonstrate such a consistent set of values, you’ll lead the organization into a good space.

It’s a never-ending task, as one of the engines of your organization, it needs regular maintenance.


  1.   Values, culture and morale are strongly interrelated and fundamental to the long-term health and success of an organization. Values are guides to behaviour, culture is the broad sharing of outlook and support across the organization. Morale, an expression of the values and culture, is an intangible measure of the ‘mood’ of an organization which, while not able to be measured objectively, can be sensed and assessed through surveys and the like.
  2. Of course, some organizations survive, even prosper, under a ‘reign of terror’ or even ‘command-and control’ culture. But the choice is there for all boards, CEOs and management teams and there’s increasing evidence that the ‘right’ culture and values enable better bottom line performance.
  3. Many organizations have a prominent statement of values and a target culture but don’t live up to them. It’s a great idea to put some thoughts out there about values and culture; the big step however is to evolve the values you desire, and nurture the culture you wish for.
  4. Never forget, values and culture are easily undermined or destroyed. If you’re up there in front of staff presenting an employee-of-the-month certificate, if last week you yelled abuse at someone they’ll only remember that and not your honeyed words at the presentation. Move on any manager or supervisor who doesn’t ‘walk the talk’ – after suitably guiding and encouraging them to change, of course.