Case Study – City of Marion “Investing in the mobilisation of intrinsic staff motivation”

The Challenge

In 2000, the City of Marion recognised the need to do things differently. Incoming Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mark Searle inherited a 12% operating deficit, an estimated staff turnover rate of more than 20% and anecdotal evidence of a poor customer service reputation. The challenge was to build the performance of the organisation, which could survive in the short term and be sustainable in the future. Focus and resource was put towards building capacity and the readiness for change.


The immediate goal was to establish a strategic and financial plan for the Council; a plan that would enable members to take ownership. With a plan in place, the organisation would have a clear strategic focus, be able to sustainably improve its capacity to meet organisational performance targets, and attract and retain good staff.


Early in the journey, emphasis was placed on being able to measure the systems and processes. Performance data, financial information and staff measures were reviewed and interpreted to understand where the Council was coming from, and allow for subsequent comparison to monitor the effectiveness of the improvement program.

With data in hand, organisational culture was seen as an important catalyst to lead change, and in 2001, a cultural approach to change was introduced. Leadership would be the driver for change and the CEO and his Executive Management Group (EMG) needed to role model the behaviours they were expecting in others. Emphasis was placed on building the capacity of managers and staff to take responsibility and be accountable for their actions.

To support the capability building, in 2002, the Council invested in the Human Synergistics Integrated Development System. Having previously used the Organisational Culture Inventory® (OCI) in an earlier role, the CEO introduced the OCI and Organisational Effectiveness Inventory™ (OEI) tools to measure the (then) operating culture of the Council and its causes. With objective data, improvement programs were refined and implemented to build a Constructive culture.

Alongside the Human Synergistics Integrated Development System, the Council introduced the Australian Business Excellence Framework (ABEF), from SAI Global, as a means to have the conversation. We recognised that it takes time to understand and embrace Constructive behaviour. The Council recognise they needed to build the internal capability to do the work themselves, and invested in training of both the Human Synergistics diagnostic tools and ABEF to allow for the work to be done inhouse. This activity reinforced the culture approach that culture isn’t something you ‘DO’, it is the ‘HOW’ you do the day-to-day. Together, the Human Synergistics and ABEF methodologies created a common approach and language to business improvement.

Change Starts at the Top

In the beginning, it was difficult to engage with the EMG and to recognise that leadership change starts from the top. If they expected others to use Constructive behaviours, they needed to role model these behaviours themselves. Building trust was paramount.

Courageously, the EMG went out to their direct reports to get feedback about their performance, by means of the Human Synergistics Life Styles Inventory™ (LSI). Using the results from the LSI, development plans and coaching programs were implemented for each of the EMG, with members being held accountable to their teams in moving towards more Constructive styles of thinking and behaviour. Having rolled out ongoing development programs at the senior level of Council, staff were successfully encouraged to participate in training and development programs at other levels of the Council.

In parallel to the work being undertaken at the top level of the organisation, the Council also looked closely at what was informing decisions at the lower levels of the organisation. A moment of truth for the Council was when the CEO and the Directors visited the depot to meet with the outdoor staff. Without any other agenda other than listening, the executive team showed they valued the outdoor staff’s contribution to building a Constructive culture through shifting a “what’s in it for me” view to a “how can we” perspective. This “how can we” perspective was further endorsed by the relocation of the Organisational Development / Human Resource function to the depot site.

The Council also adopted a Performance Partner framework to support people in their efforts to build a Constructive culture, and perhaps more importantly, a commitment to caring. The framework has even extended to the Council’s external relationships with recruiters and training providers, with the Council taking an active role in the Local Government Business Excellence Network.


The first cultural measurement in 2002 revealed a Council that rewarded and encouraged self-protecting behaviour, where members shifted responsibilities to others and blamed everyone else for mistakes. Behaviours linked to standards of excellence and the acts of care and support for each other were significantly lower in comparison. A flight/fight response was the predominant norm of behaviour.

Critically, during 2004, the Council invited members of the EMG to also respond to an OCI Preferred survey. The data allowed the Council to get an understanding of the gap between the current operating culture and the ideal culture, and echoed goal setting for the future – “Imagine the City of Marion in 2020”.

In 2005, the second measure showed a movement away from a Defensive culture and towards more Constructive norms. The greatest shifts were seen in the reduction of the Conventional style (24% decrease) and an improvement in Humanistic-Encouraging (92% increase). Shifts were also noted in some of the outcomes associated with culture, as measured through the OCI/OEI; Employee Satisfaction increased by 4% and Motivation increased by 7%.

Similar shifts towards more Constructive norms occurred in the 2007 OCI/OEI retest, with significant change occurring between 2007 and 2009. Overall, the Constructive styles increased (a 41% improvement) and the Defensive styles decreased (a 46% improvement) during the two years between 2007 and 2009. Between 2005 and 2009, Employee Satisfaction increased a further 13% and Motivation increased 14%.

Further increases occurred between 2009 and 2011, with the Council meeting the conditions of a technical Constructive Culture – all the Constructive styles at or above the 60th percentile and all the Defensive styles at or below the 50th percentile. Chart 1 shows the Council’s progression since 2005.

Culture Drives Results

Not only was change measured through the Human Synergistics diagnostic tools, improvements were also measured through the Council’s own performance metrics to create the links between culture and performance.

  • Reduced staff turnover from more than 20% to 8%
  • Maintenance of a ‘satisfactory’ community satisfaction rating (as measured externally by the Local Government Association of South Australia)
  • Achievement of planned objectives increased from 80% to 93%
  • Up to 97% of Development Applications completed within statutory timeframes, and up to 77% completed within a 1/3 of statutory timeframe
  • Achieved a pattern of consistent operating surpluses over the past seven years
  • Reduction in complaints to the State Ombudsman.

External Recognition

The Council has also received recognition of the business improvement from external sources:

  • Business Excellence Bronze Award (2007)
  • Human Synergistics Culture Transformation Award (2007)
  • Business Excellence Gold Award (2010)
  • Human Synergistics Sustainability Award (2009) and (2012)

Diagnostic Tools Organisational Culture Inventory® (OCI) (Preferred and Actual), Organisational Effectiveness Inventory™ (OEI), Life Styles Inventory™ 1&2 (LSI) and Leadership/Impact® (L/I)

Download the detailed case study – PDF, 850 KB


Change Solutions

Tools & Simulations

Our suite of diagnostic tools can help you measure and develop every level of your organisation.

About Us

The Circumplex

Our ground-breaking measurement model has been used by millions of clients around the world.

Want to achieve genuine change & unlock growth within your business?

Contact Human Synergistics to find out how we can help you today!
Scroll to Top