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I recently had a fantastic interview with Mike Gregory who is the Fleet Captain for Sergey Brin – the co-founder of Google.

Mike and I took a deep dive into how culture is essentially underpinned by values. I found his insights universally applicable!

What does a ‘value-based culture’ really mean?

A value-based culture means operating in an environment where every person understands and supports the same values. This allows each person to operate as a competent unit that knows and trusts everyone else’s intentions.

It is a situation where one knows that everybody’s actions are executed with the same vision in mind, and where they have little tolerance for those who don’t do their part.

Talking about ‘Values’

Values are simply principles that demarcate something of importance to an individual and the members of a team. But values are not just platitudes that get repeated, endlessly.

Every value must be supported by expected behaviours.

And every behaviour must be clearly described and explained so that when it is achieved, the team know what it looks, sounds, and feels like. Therefore, when it is not achieved, this is also clearly recognizable.

The Importance of ‘Buy-In’

A ‘buy-in’ to the prescribed value creates an environment for the organization to achieve the desired culture, and the type of team really doesn’t matter.

Creating a value-based culture is not easy, nor is it quick fix. A fully-functioning value-based culture requires enormous leadership input and energy, but only up to a point. With full buy-in and proactive maintenance the culture becomes so deeply engrained that it becomes self-propagating.

Teams will come to believe in the values so passionately that they will insist that newcomers adopt it as well, and fast!

So put simply values help codify an organisation’s culture

An organisational culture is simply an environment where actions and intentions are repeatedly, and consistently, displayed. This is just a complex way of saying that they become a habit.

Aristotle once said:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit”

A culture of success involves an environment where such actions are in line with the expected behaviours, pre-determined by the values, that are set by the leadership team; where every day it becomes easier to do things the right way.

Why does this Matter?

Without a clearly defined value set, supported by detailed behavioural expectations for leaders to guide and enforce, the culture is left to chance.

Plus, having a healthy culture matters because this is what the employees and clients feel, see, and hear.

And lastly, the fact is that employees who are aligned with a company’s culture work harder. And they are more likely to excel if they feel that their contribution is meaningful and is in line with the organisation’s values.

Culture can inform the customer’s perception

Employees and consumers are becoming more and more aware of the importance of culture and it’s easy to see why. Global awards for excellence are propagating rapidly. Websites where disgruntled customers or ex-employees can express exactly what they think your company did wrong get millions of clicks, and spread across social media almost as quickly as ‘fake news’.

These things can garner significant attention. They can support or thwart your attempts to attract both the best staff and the best clients. Every organisation tries to project a healthy façade but people aren’t stupid, and there is always someone who talks.

If your organisation is ‘sick’, people will find out.

Having a ‘Culture’ is not a Choice

Every organisation has its own culture. There is no way around that. But allowing the culture to evolve by itself, instead of guiding its growth to mirror that of our of values, creates nothing but confusion and waste.

It’s just chaos with extra paperwork.

So make the choice about what you want your organisation’s culture to embody, before other factors choose for you.