The Three Pillars of Culture by Design (Guest Post)

The following is a guest post from Rob Barnes, Director, Australasia at Aptify.

Being a big fan of the Culture by Design v Culture by Default discussion, I pursue meetings with thinkers on the subject regularly. Aptify's CEO--Amith Nagarajan--is a proponent of Culture by Design, and he frequently aligns our Aptify culture towards this premise to provide context around the ideas we have when pursuing client success. Alignment with our purpose--that is the not negotiable component of our culture at Aptify. Over my time with the company, watching Culture by Design in action, I have been wondering what the pillars are that define for me how Culture by Design works. My experience pointed to two of the pillars, but the third was eluding me.

I recently enjoyed a coffee with Tristan White. Tristan is CEO of The Physio Co. His company has been named in the top fifty places to work in Australia seven years in a row. Yes, seven years in a row. In 2014 they were number one. In 2015 they were number two despite their staff rating their level of engagement with the company's core purpose higher this year than when they were number one. It was to Tristan I posed the question about my missing third pillar in a designed culture. Naturally he had a compelling suggestion.

The first two pillars in my mind are intentionality and authenticity.

Intentionality in a culture by design means there are specific actions, behaviours, and interventions made throughout the organisation serving to reinforce purpose and values. One example is the language. Shelly Alcorn once told me "Change the Language, Change the World," and I love her for sharing that with me all those years ago. Tristan talked to me about the specific nomenclature they use and that is evolving as their business model evolves to serve their core purpose--making Aussie seniors mobile, safe, and happy. Where once using the lovable term "oldies" was ok, now their business is B2C and B2B, their language is changing to reinforce why they do what they do.

Whatever term you might use to convey it, authenticity about culture from an organisation's leadership is critical to success. Customers and employees alike must be able to experience the culture in a way that is meaningful. The way Tristan behaves, the decisions he makes, and the actions he takes are in alignment to their purpose and values at all times. It is not telling people you believe in cultural alignment, it is people experiencing your culture as a result of your behaviour, decisions, and actions.

The missing link for me was the repetition with which I felt these authentic and intentional behaviours need to be experienced in order to activate Culture by Design. Repetitiveness was not the word I was looking for. Tristan nailed it for me: relentless execution.

Yes, a relentless execution of behaviour, decisions, and actions that are aligned to core purpose and values.

It is not about the rhetoric. It is about the team (primarily) and others hearing about why The Physio Co transformed into a values-based business in 2009 and have not looked back, doubling in size about every two years. Relentless execution is the constant realignment of the team's decisions and behaviours towards actions that pursue objectives which constitute progress towards purpose.

Bring in a new management structure to leverage new business opportunities? Talk relentlessly about why that change is occurring and how it aligns to core purpose. Talk relentlessly about how each team member, executing their function in accordance with core values, will contribute to the company's core purpose under the new management structure. Then talk about it again, and again, so that as growth occurs, each new team member is on-boarded in a culturally aligned way. Existing team members helping on-boarding will also experience the reinforcement of purpose and values as they impart their experiences to the new hires.

Intentionality, authenticity, relentless execution - three pillars of designing a culture supporting a values based business. Nice work Tristan, nice work.

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