Case Study – Yarra Valley Water, “Into The Blue Zone”


“Yarra Valley Water is now a much better place to work and everyone sees the benefits of working in the ‘Blue Zone’. We still push for very high levels of achievement but people are now much more confident and relaxed and believe in their ability to achieve and grow,”

Tony Kelly Managing Director, Yarra Valley Water.

The Situation

Yarra Valley Water is a shining example of how companies can become more efficient, provide better customer service and enable staff to enjoy their work and achieve a better work-life balance.

With 1.5 million customers in Melbourne’s northern and eastern suburbs and a turnover of $350m per annum, Yarra Valley Water is a busy state government owned company operating commercially under a board of directors.

Although the company was operating well, in 2001 management recognised the need to improve efficiency while maintaining high levels of customer satisfaction. To achieve this, they committed to a long-term broad culture change programme designed to deliver excellence in all areas of their business.

The change process was, and continues to be, driven by a strong knowledge that the underlying culture of a business determines its long-term performance.

The Solution

The first step was to find a tool to measure Yarra Valley Water’s existing culture and identify areas for cultural improvement.

Human Synergistics’ Organisational Culture Inventory (OCI) was chosen on the advice of consultant Ian Pimblett of Strategic Growth because of its pictorial representation of cultural styles and its ability to compare the company’s culture with a large international sample of business units.

Yarra Valley Water conducted its first OCI analysis in September 2001. Twenty-six managers completed questionnaires to articulate their preferred culture. This was followed by a survey of the whole organisation to measure the actual culture.

The results showed a significant gap between the desired culture and the actual culture. Being able to measure and map this gap was the important first step in creating long-term change strategies and allowing the implementation of immediate initiatives.

Change starts at the top

Strong support from the Executive and the Board was one of the most important factors in the success of Yarra Valley Water’s culture change programme. Without active leadership, change management programmes of this nature are bound to fail.

Equally important was the engagement of staff at all levels led internally by Yarra Valley Water’s General Manager Human Resources, Anne Farquhar. Staff were involved from the start through information sessions and interactive workshops to discuss their team’s OCI results and to develop improvement actions.

Lessons learnt

Clear and open communication – Management made a conscious effort to improve internal communication and implemented a number of initiatives. For example, staff organised internal ‘Open Days’ in their areas so others could learn about their roles and achievements for the organisation.

Leadership competencies – The effectiveness of the organisation’s managers was measured using Human Synergistics’ Life Styles Inventory (LSI) to give individual feedback and to show the link between good leadership and positive outcomes.

Managers, including the executive team, shared their results with their peers and their staff. Group workshops were held to openly discuss results and share best practice. Openness and honesty were starting to emerge, and key actions were put in place for each manager’s personal improvement.

‘Blue Zone’ – Throughout 2002 the understanding of what culture is about had grown across the company. Even the language changed as people started talking about the ‘Blue Zone’. To support the emerging ‘blue’ culture many initiatives were launched:

  • In-house recruitment to control the ‘fit’ of new employees also resulted in recruitment costs decreasing by 75%
  • Informal ‘Skip Level Interviews’ began between staff and managers two levels above them to allow for better understanding of issues.
  • The monthly Reward and Recognition celebrations were made more interactive and less formal.
  • Behavioural improvements were included in manager’s performance plans and managers initiated their own culture improvement review sessions with staff.

‘Blue Zone Days’ – Early in 2003, ‘Blue Zone Days’ were introduced to engage people at all levels in the change programme and to set expectations of management practices.

A series of fun and engaging team sessions were staged to investigate the behaviours associated with the twelve cultural styles of the OCI and LSI.

As a result, there was common understanding and agreement about the way to approach work and relate to each other, and an expectation of how management should behave.

Diagnostic Tools Organisational Culture Inventory® (OCI) Preferred and Actual and Life Styles Inventory™ (LSI).

Download the detailed case study – PDF, 373 KB


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