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Culture Bites 012 - How Culture Works Pt1 - Overview

Published on 10 Jul 2018
How Culture Works Jigsaw

We talk about what culture is, why it matters, and how it works. This is part 1 in a 5 part series in which we break down culture and its causes. This episode of the podcast is host by David Byrum (aka ‘DB’) and Dominic Gourley.

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Microphone Key Takeaways and Ideas

What is Culture?
The technical defection is around the shared norms, values, and behaviours – expectations that govern how we work and what we do.

A lot of people get confused about what culture is – you hear the terms risk culture/innovation culture/diversity culture/safety culture etc. – but all of those words to describe culture are actually OUTCOMES of culture. You only have one culture and that culture governs how you approach risk, innovation, diversity, and so on.

Why does Culture Matter? Outcomes
When people ask ‘what is culture?’ we typically start with ‘we know it’s the values, the norms, the expectations… but what it’s ultimately about is delivering that value to our employees, our customers, and our shareholders.

Employee Value
Some organisations are fortunate enough that their brand will attract employees because they are consumer or prestige brands. Other organisations don’t have a big or famous brand to attract talent. What really separates organisations though is when employees are in the business, and what retains your employees, is your culture. If you work in an organisation which has a dog eat dog kind of culture or one where you’re expected to unplug your brain at the door – then you’re not going to stick around or recommend it as a place to work to others.

Customer Value
How you operate internally ripples out to the customer. So if your employees internally are expected to seek approval before they can make decisions then they are likely to say to the customer “sorry I can’t do that”, “I have to wait” or “our policy is…”. That’s not good for the customers and it’s not good for the employees. From an aggressive culture it could look like employees forcing products on customer which they don’t want or need. 

Shareholder Value
We’re in business for their shareholders – even non-commercial organisations have stakeholders and constituents that they need to perform for: they want high standards, consistent, reputable, in line with societal values etc. In the commercial world we know that organisations that have constructive cultures will generate better financial returns for organisations: higher revenue, net profit will be higher, improved customer retention, all the way through to something like safety performance.

What Kind of Cultures Can Organisations have?
You can see culture when you walk into an organisation and you don’t need to be told what it is. New starters at an organisation will learn very quickly about ‘the rules of the game’ – how they are expected the behave – but it’s not something that anyone will actually explicitly tell them. So it’s visible and transparent but it’s invisible but it won’t necessarily be written down. Companies can have values and handbooks – but what is truly lived in the organisation?

We Measure Behaviours using the Human Synergistics Circumplex:

Ideal Circ Transparent

Click on the Circumplex above to view an interactive version which lets you get more detail on each of the styles. Below is a summary of the clusters:

Passive/Defensive: Security Through People
The styles that make up the Passive/Defensive cluster are Approval, Conventional, Dependent, and Avoidance. As a summary it means people are expected to fit in, go along with others, be accepted by others, wait, follow, comply, avoid conflict etc. So ultimately people are expected to keep themselves safe by not upsetting anyone.

Aggressive/Defensive: Security Through Task
The styles that make up the Passive/Defensive cluster are Oppositional, Power, Competitive, Perfectionistic. As a summary it means people are expected to stand out, look like they’re in control, be all over the details, be critical, don’t make any mistakes, don’t share information, win at all costs. These styles give security because people are protected because I look better than my peers.

Constructive: Satisfaction Through both Task and People
The styles at make up the Constructive cluster are: Achievement, Self-Actualised, Humanistic-Encouraging, Affiliative. As a summary it means people are expected to collaborate, cooperate, teach, mentor, grow others, grow and develop yourself, be curious, make a difference and achieve our goals.

Organisations will have a mixture of these three different types of cultures. What characterises the organisation are the signals which are the loudest. What you want to do is turn up the volume on those constructive styles and turn down the Aggressive and Passive ones.

How Culture Works
How Culture Works

Coming Up in Future Episodes in this 5 part series

Over the next 4 episodes we’ll look at the different things that shape and cause culture:
012 – How Culture Works Pt1 – Overview
013 – How Culture Works Pt2 – Mission, Philosophy, Structures
014 – How Culture Works Pt3 – HR Systems
015 – How Culture Works Pt4 – Job Design
016 – How Culture Works Pt5 – Leadership

Learn More:

Organizational culture is influenced by a variety of factors, not least the behavior of the organization's leaders. To help organizations effectively measure their culture, Human Synergistics International CEO and distinguished academic Robert A. Cooke, Ph.D. developed the How Culture Works model in 1997. This identifies a total of 31 causal factors (organized into five categories) that are responsible for shaping culture and helping an organization move from its Current Culture to its preferred or Ideal Culture.

Culture Bites Podcast is Copyrighted © by Human Synergistics Australia 2018. All Rights Reserved.

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Additional Resources:

What is Culture Whitepaper