BOOK REVIEW: Spotlight on company culture

Culture Infusion: 9 Principles for Creating and Maintaining a Thriving Organizational Culture, by Kerry Alison Wekelo

MY WORK is focused on assisting companies to formulate strategies - strategies that work. As such, I am acutely alive to the adage: culture eats strategy for breakfast. If your culture is not aligned to your strategy, it will never work. Full stop.

Reading about the culture of the finest companies in the world is always inspirational, but so rarely applicable to the majority of medium-sized and small businesses.

Author Kerry Wekelo is part of a 50-person business with a culture that serves its business purpose well. Her book, Culture Infusion, is an example of what it takes to forge a company culture. She identifies nine principles, many of which would fit any medium or small business and add to its effectiveness.

The nine principles Wekelo employs are a useful framework for customising your own approach, in your own business.

The first principle is that culture starts with leadership. A culture that in not based on how leaders deport themselves is doomed to fail. To appreciate this, simply consider how well employees will show customers care when they are shabbily treated by their leaders.

Principle One requires that leaders provide “Intentional Leadership”. Too many leadership courses focus on practices, not intentions.

If, for example, you were clear that the type of culture you desire is one where you want everyone’s input, insights, commitment and collaboration, your practice would be formed by that intention. When you deviate, you will experience ‘cognitive dissonance’, a state of tension that occurs whenever a person’s behaviour or practice is inconsistent with their beliefs.

“An important best practice is to incorporate self-reflection across the organization,” Kerry notes. It is only when self-reflection is expected that there will be a constancy in practice, that supports the intended leadership approach. 

If your leadership intention is to have your people work as a committed team because the business case requires this, there are many ways this can be achieved. A practice you could adopt could be to ask for input on major decisions on a regular basis so that everyone is involved, their ideas heard and their input appreciated.

The second principle of Wekelo’s company’s culture is to have personal wellness as a priority - not merely as an occasional ‘nice to have’. If people are poorly nourished or unhealthy they clearly cannot be effective, and will certainly have a lower general quality of life. If personal wellness is to be seen as a priority, it would need to be encouraged in as many ways as possible.

This might take the form of group exercise or meditation sessions after work, but might also be manifest in the snack choices at company meetings where fruit and nuts replace cookies and chips. Staff might be encouraged to have walking meetings if only two people are involved.

Importance of a healthy work/life balance

The third principle is an insistence on a healthy work/life balance. ‘Balance’ is a term that cannot be taken as anything other than a metaphor for taking both work and non-work life seriously.

This is necessary because “work and home used to have much clearer boundaries than we now have in this information age of 24/7 connectivity,” Wekelo explains. It is so easy not to take ‘home’ seriously enough since work is never more than a click away while at a child’s sports event, or even at a funeral or wedding or on a weekend.

It is widely accepted by all serious neuro-scientists that the 20th-century aspiration of working long hours is counter-productive in every respect. It limits the energy available for home, just as it reduces the quality of work.

Balance is very often not possible when viewed over short periods. What is possible, however, is a balance on average, over time.

“If you worked late three nights in a row in order to finish a project, make sure you then plan extra time for play, rest, and time with people who energize and nourish you.” Evaluating your balance at the end of each week will keep this principle alive.

One of my clients has a policy that no one may work more than 5½ days a week, and if more time is required in any week, it must be compensated for in the next week.  

The other principles of the author’s company culture include the practice of ensuring effective communication, dealing with conflict directly, openly, and immediately, and encouraging team connection through carefully crafted activities.

One of the most useful but overlooked ways of encouraging the culture you need in your company is to conduct regular but appropriate employee surveys. Many companies have employee surveys but they are infrequent, too long, and rarely highly focused.

Wekelo suggests crafting them with care, keeping them short, and making sure that the results are communicated back to employees.

Having a culture that is supportive of your strategy is not only for large organisations. What this book demonstrates is the ease with which a culture can be formulated, and the rational and effective ways it can be institutionalised. But it all starts with intentional leadership.

Readability:     Light +---- Serious
Insights:         High --+-- Low
Practical:         High +---- Low


  • Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Executive Update. Views expressed are his own.

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