Blog – Culture & Leadership – The ‘Secret Sauce’ To Success

By Human Synergistics Australia

The recent 2023 Annual Culture & Leadership Conference in Sydney and Melbourne was Human Synergistics 25th such event celebrating the journeys and success stories of their clients and network.

With guests from an array of different industries and backgrounds we were inspired by our keynote speakers and panellists who shared their insights and real-world experiences. And they all had one thing in common – a pursuit of excellence performance through a focus on CULTURE and LEADERSHIP.

The consistent themes from this year’s conference were:

–          Culture and leadership being core enablers for organisational performance

–          The power and importance of trust

–          The importance of being connected to your mission and purpose


“Culture is very, very important to us. We see it as a key enabler of our strategy and many people in our organisation say that Sanitarium’s culture is now our secret sauce,”
  according to Todd Saunders (Executive General Manager). Both he and Peter Hartnett (Head of People and Culture) from Sanitarium The Health Food Company shared their story of how they were able to adapt during the pandemic, and came out stronger. Todd believes that their long-term focus on culture has been a direct enabler of their commercial success, which has seen them take up the number 1 position in the breakfast isle (before beginning their work on culture 12 years ago when they were ranked number 3).

Todd and Peter touched on themes such as trust, culture as a competitive advantage, the impact leaders have on organisational culture, and how their culture has driven the way they recruit and retain their people.

We’ve been very intentional about asking people to be on the bus…or off the bus, for 12 years now“, says Todd.  Sanitarium have intentionally invested in their culture and their people, with the Human Synergistics tools becoming a big part of the way they do business today. Hiring to be  ‘character-fit’ over being ‘skillset-fit’ helped them to weather the Covid storm, and ultimately came out stronger!

Peter believes that leadership helps reinforce culture and thus refine performance. “The LSI (Life Styles Inventory™) provides us with an ability to set expectations around leadership at an individual level” Peter says. “It creates a common language for us”. Peter also believes that self-awareness as a leader is key. “You can do all the workshops in the world but unless you change at that individual level and have self-awareness…that’s where the magic happens”.

Sanitarium’s story demonstrates the importance of a long-term, sustained approach to culture and the crucial role trust plays in driving performance.


Over the past decade, organisations have grappled with the ups and downs of the rapidly evolving economic, social, and technological landscape. For Australian universities, this challenge was particularly pronounced with the emergence of Covid-19. This global upheaval further compounded the pressures on a sector already recognising the imperative to undergo transformative shifts not just to endure, but truly flourish in this ever-changing and demanding environment.

Nicole Gower, Vice-President of Professional Services, told a story of how Macquarie University navigated these unprecedented challenges – with existing challenges only amplified – and sought to transform their ways of working.

Nicole is grateful that Macquarie University recognised the importance of culture and leadership as core enablers and core levers for their success, to achieve their strategy and their transformation. “We knew that our prospects of success would improve if we focused on culture and people and leadership at the same time”. They focused on unified leadership and becoming a high performing leadership team, ensuring they could together lead the organisation well. As a result they became match fit! They focused on building trust and shared accountability among the broader leadership community and developed a Senior Leaders Forum, bringing together leadership communities from across the institution with a sense of openness and transparency, and most importantly a shared mission. The result? Transformation began to take place.

Nicole is pleased that the journey to transformational change has been successful, but believes it never has an end point. Nicole advises that her core KPI’s require constant vigilance and attention to the culture landscape and measurement.  She believes the transformation has shown positive indicators of success, however, culture should be embedded at day one, show up at day 50 and still be present at day 400 – it’s a constant journey.


This also resonates with recently retired CEO of Rabobank Australia, Peter Knoblanche.  Peter – who has a particular passion for connecting business drivers to a higher purpose – shared the Rabobank story towards a constructive culture.

Peter says that “at Rabobank we are an organisation that is built on purpose”. Rabobank was started by farmers, for farmers as a cooperative bank to give the community the finances they needed to thrive. Today they are “growing a better world together” . Together meaning that to succeed they need their customers to thrive, their communities to thrive, and ultimately their people to thrive and feel good about what they do. They are now the leading Food & Agriculture bank globally.

Their culture is built around this purpose. They wanted to ensure their culture was robust and effective to achieve their purpose properly, “the to ability to grow and get that resilience in our business, the ability to adapt to new things, to not be stationary but be more progressive about the way we do things…with people feeling empowered to do this.
Rabobank used the OCI / OEI (Organisational Culture Inventory® / Organisational Effectiveness Inventory® ) as a way to see where they were at, and identify gaps for growth and improvement. Peter saw the OCI / OEI as a metaphorical MRI. He likened approaching culture measurement as the same way you’d approach your own well-being – like a general health check.

According to Peter, this cultural MRI is a good way for a company to ‘look in the mirror’. It allowed Rabobank to see they had some good constructive behaviour within their team but there were opportunities to develop further. “Over the last 2 years we have made quite a lot of progress on our culture journey, and it has really further supported a strong organisation!

With the help of Human Synergistics they were able to develop Culture Coaches – who they believe to be their own ‘secret sauce’. These people became custodians of the mission, purpose, values, and behaviours of the organisation.

Peter believes from an organisational perspective the company has a very ‘collegial’ outlook, and many staff feel like they are part of a family. Because the company’s purpose is so heavily embedded within the culture, everyone has a very clear sense of their role, that their output makes a difference – it really fosters an environment where staff thrive and feel good about what they do.

To see each of these stories in more detail, check out the full videos.

At Human Synergistics we are here to support you on your journey to build a constructive culture. We believe culture and your people are your biggest competitive advantage. We know that constructive leadership drives constructive culture, and these both drive high performance in your organisation. Our tools create a great opportunity to identify the gaps and areas for growth at an individual, team and organisational level. Getting the right data is key to shaping where to go and how to achieve your desired outcomes.


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