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Corporate Culture: What Is Your Company's Tribe?

Corporate Culture: What Is Your Company's Tribe?
On Friday, 30 HR professionals gathered at the OCG offices in Auckland to hear from a panel discussing the importance of company culture for business. Our panel included Shona Wilson, Senior Organisational Development Leader, Genesis Energy, Denise Doyle, former Head of HR – Leadership & Culture, Lumley and Greg McAllister, General Manager, OCG. The panel discussed key findings from the OCG survey, practical corporate experience and also the psychological perspective of culture. Below is a summary of some of the content that was discussed.

In the Organisational Culture: Bigger than the Bottom Line survey conducted by OCG, key findings show that 90% of respondents believed culture was important to delivering business strategy. And yet, 43% of respondents said they would rate their organisation’s culture as poor. In HR, we discuss company culture quite often, but what exactly is hidden behind this label and how precisely does it contribute to business results?

What Tribe Does Your Company Belong To?

Greg McAllister stated that: "81% of respondents to our research believed that 'the way the things are done' defines corporate culture. This means that employees are seeing the first signs of company culture from day one with a new employer. Therefore, the first 90 days are not only for employees to prove their value to a new employer, but they are also the crucial days when new hires process information, whether they are welcome or not and whether they fit into the team."

Shona Wilson gives her perspective on why it is so important to find a company culture where we fit, ‘a tribe’ in her words. “As a new member of a team, I am checking if what I am selling is what I am buying.” In other words, if a job advert or what a candidate was told during an interview, matches the actual workplace culture they’ve now joined.

Genetically, our brains are programmed to seek like-minded people – not just in the workplace but in life in general. As we spend a significant part of our life at work, it is not surprising we’re looking for signs of belonging from the very first day at work. The way power is demonstrated and status is expressed, how achievements are celebrated, whether disagreements and different opinions are taken on or who informal leaders are – these are a few signs new employees collect and assess.

Spreading the Kindness

What do you do when you realise that to reduce the gaps between strategic company goals you have to change the whole mindset of your organisation? According to Shona, a “kindness campaign” might be a good solution.

“It may sound fluffy, but if you start with small nice things, kindness starts to spread within an organisation.” Shona described how this campaign helped to change their culture from “you work here but you don’t really matter” into a culture where employees embrace the humanity in their colleagues sitting next to them. “What started by nice soap and flowers in bathrooms, spread to natural acts of people bringing nice tea to the office or random anonymous e-mails employees started to send to make people smile,” Shona explains.

Based on our survey, 94% of respondents believe that an improvement of culture would bring improvements to a range of aspects across the business, including staff engagement, customer satisfaction, staff retention, innovation, productivity and revenue. Denise Doyle, shared an example of this. When she joined Lumley in 2007, the company had a new CEO and with four new roles in the executive team, they were essentially starting a new leadership group. With a new parent company, low profitability, poor internal processes, high employee turnover, disadvantaged staff and new staff leaving within six months, Denise has a major challenge on her hands.

Company Culture is Everyone’s Responsibility, however…

“That’s where we started. It was lots of fun,” Denise commented. Luckily, the Lumley leadership team decided they wanted things to change. They decided that besides technology, people were the way to go. Within just a few years, Lumley launched a huge number of new initiatives, including clear career maps, strong leadership programmes and an increased focus on talent management in general.

And their huge effort paid off. In a couple of years, Lumley were getting 90% response rates in their employee engagement surveys and had managed to get the business back to profitability. What may look like an overnight success required enormous patience, commitment and trust in their employees.

“Robust, servant leadership that encourages mentoring is absolutely critical,” emphasised Denise, highlighting the importance of board members being the first ones to adopt new behaviours. Her experience confirms another key finding from our survey: although respondents claim company culture is everyone’s responsibility, the biggest reason cited for failed culture change was a lack of buy-in from leadership.


In the research, 98% of respondents stated that it was important for their workplace to provide a greater purpose than just making money. It’s a huge number; telling us we should not take company culture lightly, but rather look for smart ways to approach it that serve our individual business. That way, step by step, our businesses will gain engaged employees with a sense of purpose. With working our life taking up one third of our day until we retire, that’s a huge commitment.

If you’re interested in further details from our research report, please get in touch to request a copy or speak with an OCG consultant.

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