How companies can shape workplace culture

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

What defines an organization’s culture?

It’s people.

Culture is shaped by the collective beliefs and behaviours of its work force. Culture is organic and lives and breathes each day. The aggregate of employees’ daily thoughts, feelings and actions creates the culture, which is tangible and can be measured.

Culture sets the standard for how employees and managers interact with each other and their customers. Peter Drucker’s famous quote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” can be observed today in an organization’s financial performance.

Culture accounts for 20-30 per cent of the performance differential when evaluating why one organization is out-performing another. The failure rate for all mergers and acquisitions is estimated at 70-90 per cent. One key factor of those that work is culture.


When most of us get on the highway, we look for the speed limit set by government. In a 100 km/h zone, the culturally accepted limit is between 110 and 119. Those who choose to drive 124 km/h know the risk and if they get pulled over for speeding, they know the police officer is just doing their job.

Culture starts with senior leadership who, with their people, set the speed limits with respect to vision and values. Culture shapes the story for how people are expected to behave within a workplace. This impacts their workplace experience.


Having a speed limit with no one focused on managing it is of little value. Too many organizations have words on the wall that most of the work force do not know about or believe to be true. Putting words on the wall or in writing that are not congruent are nothing but artifacts that attract resentment and skeptics, and erode trust. Senior leaders who struggle to gain their employees’ trust can make positive gains by focusing on shaping and managing the culture.


Actions leadership can…

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