How to create a workplace culture that counts

The value of a strong workplace culture is no longer debated. It’s no surprise that the biggest brand on planet, Google, has also won Fortunes' Best Companies to Work For 6 years in a row. However, this begs two obvious questions a) what kind of culture should your place have, and b) how do you make it happen. Read on.

What Kind of Culture?

Ask most people this and they’ll resort to clichés; work hard, but play hard too, a collaborative culture full of team spirit. No hierarchies. Agile.. Passion.. Real. ‘No dickheads’. All of these may or may not be a part of a culture – but it shouldn’t define the culture – what should is your brand.

The ‘brand’ is a summary of your strategic advantage, and more importantly it’s what separates you from your competitors. Your brand should be living internally as much as it is externally, and should be guiding the business inside and out. This is true now more than ever due to the rise of social media and the ultra-transparency all businesses face nowadays. Corporate culture used to sit in a black box where the outside couldn’t see in. However, social media has changed all that and the corporation has moved from the black to the glass box.

In a glass box, all employees represent the corporate brand they work for. If the brand dictates the culture then i) you’ll be able to build a distinct and differentiated culture, and ii) the culture will help build the entire business. I’ll give you two examples;

Firstly, my previous agency developed the brand line ‘Don’t Hold Back’ for the automotive brand Jeep. Not only did all the ads end with the line ‘Don’t Hold Back’, capturing the essence of owning a Jeep, so too all the dealerships and staff embraced a ‘Don’t Hold Back’ philosophy. The brand helped build and create the culture internally (a culture where everyone was encouraged to push boundaries and Don’t Hold Back), and build the brand for consumers as well.

The second example is from my current agency ‘Thinkerbell’. Our brand is all about delivering ‘Measured Magic’, and to this end we want that to be our culture as well. We hire people against the philosophy of measured magic (discipline and relentless enquiry balanced with freedom of thought and creativity) and use it to set the tone of what we are about.

How to Build it?

A culture is the sum of many thoughts, feelings and actions from everyone who works within an organisation over time. I treat cultural change programs as behaviour change programs. You set the culture you want (ideally one that is reflective of your brand), and then you set in place a behaviour change program to make this happen. In order to do this, there are two key levers to pull; motivation and ease:


To ensure people adopt a culture increase their motivation to make it happen. Perhaps the most sure-fire way to do this is via ‘ownership’, if you can build the culture with them. Give them a say in setting the vision. One technique I like to do is ask all employees to create two short videos i) a 10 second video of what the cultures like today, and ii) a 10 second video of what the culture should be. Video is a great tool to communicate with.

Another thing to also do is create a sense of ‘collectivism’ around the culture you want. Use assumptive norms and make it feel like that that is the culture everyone has already bought into. Find the company radiators the ones who give off all the positive energy and enrol them into the brand first. They’ll dictate the tone for everyone else to follow.


Make it easy for people to understand the culture you want them to adopt. This sounds basic but it’s so often forgotten. I hear people complain about the fact no one understands what the culture of the place is. But when I ask if these people have been told what the culture stands for I receive a blank face.

So, make it really clear, and develop many signs, symbols and rituals that bring the culture to life. People should be bumping into these things and involving themselves in the rituals every single day. Whatever it is that brings your culture to life do it. Name your meetings in accordance with your culture. To make this clear our agency has ‘Measured Mondays’ as a kick off meeting to start the week, and ‘Magic Hour’ on a Fridays for some random inspiration. I’m not saying that they are the best example of what I mean but it makes the point.

Leadership boards, awards, incentive programs, pampering moments wherever possible bring the culture to life with a sign, symbol, or ritual. This can (and should) extend to the factory floor.

As an aside also, where you can please eradicate any rituals that don’t help build your culture. You don’t have to, for example, celebrate people’s birthdays with cake. It pains me to think about the number of poor souls who have been subject to awkward gatherings, bad cake, a few helium balloons and a half-hearted rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. Just because they were born on that particular day. Find your own way to celebrate people’s birthdays –anything is better than that. Or better yet find another day to celebrate (like the day they joined the company.

In Summary

Cultural change programs are often made to feel really difficult and exhausting but they don’t have to be. Just a) Set the culture you want – ideally dictated by what your brand stands for, b) ensure people are motivated by that particular articulation of the culture, and c) make it easy to happen by embedding a series of signs, symbols and rituals to ensure it builds and take hold.

Adam Ferrier is a consumer psychologist, and Founder of Thinkerbell. He enjoys mixing behavioural sciences and creativity together to make change happen. His speaking style is ‘intelligently dischevelled’.

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How to create a workplace culture that counts

Adam Ferrier is the founder of THINKERBELL, an agency that creates 'measured magic'. Adam is one of the leading consumer psychologists in Australia, a brand strategist and an authority on Behavioural Economics. He's also the author of “The Advertising Effect” and part of The Australian Creatives’ ‘Power 20’; A regular on the Gruen Transfer and featured on The Project, Celebrity Apprentice and ABC Radio.

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