BY Nicky Denegri

DATE: 05 JUN 2014


I came across a quote this morning from Richard Branson: “Train people so that they can leave.  Treat them well enough that they will stay.” which I loved.

It has echoes of what we sometimes discuss with our clients who worry that spending time and money developing people’s knowledge and skills: “What if you develop your people and they leave?” to which there’s only one response: “What if you don’t develop them and they stay?”.

This blog is about organisational culture as a whole rather than just its learning and development ethos.  Here are a couple of definitions of culture, the first a general one:    

  • “The ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular people or society.”

And the second, with particular reference to organisational culture:       

  • “The values and behaviours that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organisation.”

I wrote recently about a team I work with every six months and their commitment to becoming and maintaining a high performance team culture.

Not long after that, I spent a day with the Senior Management Team of another client of ours where the agenda was around change.  It was a fantastic day.  They are lovely people – great fun, but entirely professional, experts in their field and part of a global business.

One of the issues they flagged for further exploration was how to maintain their particular organisational culture in the face of a fairly large-scale recruitment drive.  We talked about how getting people with the right experience or potential skills is one thing, but getting the right fit is an entirely different and much more challenging one.

Every organisation has its own distinct culture – for good or for bad – but this is one where the culture really does stand out as something special.  I arrived just after 7.30, so before the main client Reception area opened.  I’d been told to go to the staff Reception area, and whilst I was there, every single person who passed by acknowledged me, with a cheery smile, a “morning” or a wave.  This is unusual.  It was a sign of what was to come: a day spent with cheerful, open people who were curious about learning and discussing options together, and who evidenced a deep respect for each other.

When I speak to people in my network, I’m aware of just how unusual this is.  Some of the stories I’ve heard over the years have been mind-boggling: the person threatened with a pair of scissors by the head of the company’s partner (who also worked in the business) whilst the rest of the team stood by, too terrified for their own positions to speak up; the team whose boss would regularly roar with anger at them all (and occasionally throw things) when he found out that their competitors were doing things he thought they should be doing.  The friend of mine whose colleagues were so uniformly unhelpful (because the culture was overly money-focussed) and who was told that if they had to ask a question they weren’t doing their job “properly” – despite being brand new to the business and the sector!  All of these are appalling examples of organisations that haven’t managed people properly in terms of what is acceptable, or, because the organisation had a certain kudos, meant that people felt their staff would tolerate anything in order to have its prestigious name on their CVs.

Lots of companies metaphorically shrug their shoulders about this stuff; they reckon they’re successful – making lots of money being their success metric – so why should they bother trying to create an environment that people would actually enjoy being part of.  Why?  Well, brand, reputation, client satisfaction and (further) economic gains, to name but a few.

I’m currently doing the job I love in a company that I love.  I’m aware that not many people can tick one, other or both of these boxes.

Are you the boss in your company?  If so, do you really know that your organisational culture is one that is healthy for you, your staff and your clients?  If not, how do you plan to find out… and what are you prepared to do if that culture is not quite “there” yet?  It’s a risk turning the mirror on yourself, but the rewards can be quite amazing.


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about the author

Nicky Denegri is our Senior Consultant. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop her an email and we will be in touch.

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