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  • Adele

How do you create a great workplace culture?

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

The role of the business leader, people manager or HR director is to be the Custodian of Culture. They are there to nurture, protect and preserve the culture. The culture will determine the future success of the business. The No 1 Key Objective is to cultivate the workplace culture.

It’s not about churning out endless policies and procedures, it’s about creating a shared vision and mission that enables the people to feel belonging, worth and to make a difference in the world.

The leader’s role is to demonstrate how colleagues can work harmoniously together, respecting each other and contributing to the organisation's success.

Every leader should ask these four questions about their business:

· Do you have leaders in your business with a vision, who value how individuals contribute?

· Do you have line managers who empower rather than control their staff?

· Do you have defined values that are lived and not just spoken, leading to a sense of trust and integrity?

· Do your employees have the chance to voice their views and concerns?

Those organisations who understand that employee wellbeing and ultimately engagement starts with culture, are seeing the positive effects on levels of absenteeism, retention, levels of innovation, customer service and on employee advocacy of their organisations.

Those organisations that allow employees to have fun at work, to play on the pool table, to have a game of office basketball, to get up whenever they want and go for a jog around the block to reenergise, who empower their teams to organise their own workday are seeing the rewards.

Employees respect that fact that they are being giving autonomy over their working day, they are not being micro managed. As long as they meet their project / output delivery goals then why does it matter how they organise their working day?

Positive Social Culture

A positive social culture starts with compassion. When people can learn to act with compassion they are showing the positive side of human nature. A compassionate culture will see employees looking out for one another, helping each other where needed and celebrating success together.

Without compassion the culture becomes greedy, self-centred, competitive and often poisonous. We need to have a strong sense of community within our businesses so that people feel they belong.

We see more in the press each day about bringing communities together and crossing divides, uniting people with a common purpose to stop religious hatred, criminality and promote education; the workplace is no different.

When you can give people a sense of purpose and belonging and build a positive community environment that employees can identify with, then you will see great things start to happen.


Every organisation needs a mission. This is not just a mission statement printed on a bit of company literature that no one knows exists. This is the absolute centre of why the organisation exists.

Most organisations are probably familiar with some type of mission statement. In the past they may have been focused on profit, customer service, being no 1 in your sector and reaching particular milestones. In the future, we see the mission as being about making a positive difference on people’s lives, about giving meaning to why your employees turn up every day and the difference they are making to others in the world.

Take Google’s mission statement for example:

"Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful". [1]

It’s short, to the point and above all memorable. It is easy for every employee, customer and general observer to read and understand in an instant. It doesn’t talk about products, profit, shareholders, markets, technology, public image or employees specifically. What it does is tell everyone what they are trying to do to help people and make the world a better place.

How about GE’s mission statement:

"GE’S mission is to invent the next industrial era, to build, move, power and cure the world".[2]

That’s a pretty bold statement, again it doesn’t talk about money, employees or customers specifically.

In the past we were told that an effective mission statement should focus on the Company’s outward persona or public image, it’s philosophy, customers and employees. Talking about our values within the mission statement and using key buzz words such as ‘Citizenship’, ‘teamwork’, ‘excellence’, ‘integrity’ ‘communities’, ‘customers’, ‘employees’, ‘ethics’, ‘global’ and ‘quality/value’ were essential to effective mission statements.[3]

Now we understand the importance of being short and to the point! Your mission statement needs to be bold, inspirational and everlasting, long after the managers of today have gone.

This was Amazon’s mission statement in 2013:

“We seek to be Earth’s most customer-centric company for four primary customer sets: consumers, sellers, enterprises, and content creators.”[4]

Now take a look at Amazon’s mission statement since 2014:

"Our vision is to be Earth's most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online".[5]

They still mention customers. Now am not saying that this is wrong. Of course, customers are central to all our businesses, in whatever form your customers are, you would not be in business without them. To Amazon it is obviously very important to serve their customers well and their mission statement has evolved, still reflecting this.

Now let’s take a look at Starbucks:

"To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time".[6]

And Nokia:

Connecting People

Very, very simple, but very, very broad in interpretation. I could go on highlighting many mission statements from various global organisations but I think you should have the idea.

In short: You need to think about the mission statement and the ongoing legacy you are trying to create. What positive difference is the organisation trying to make in this world and on people’s lives.


Once you have identified the Mission, then what about the Vision?

Confused? Thought they were the same thing?

Well not quite; the vision is what the organisation wants to be like in the future. It should be aspirational and inspirational in order to help create a mental image of the organisation in the future.

A Mission Statement defines the company's business, its objectives and its approach to reach those objectives. A Vision Statement describes the desired future position of the company. Elements of Mission and Vision Statements are often combined to provide a statement of the company's purposes, goals and values.”[7]

Let’s take a look at Facebook’s Mission and Vision statements in order to see why you need both:

Facebook Inc.’s Mission:

"To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”

So this focuses on empowering people. Enabling sharing, and connecting the world.

Facebook Inc.’s Vision:

"People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them."

And this is a combination of facilitation of communication among friends and family, using Facebook as a tool for self-discovery and self-expression and lastly existing in a Global market.

So you need a strong, high impact Mission statement and a Vision for the future of the organisation… easy right? Well don’t think about creating this on your own.

Get a focus group together from your organisation, test out a few different alternatives, ask employees to get involved, show your short list to your peer groups and get creative.

Don’t forget your Mission and Vision need to be revisited every so often. Maybe annually or bi-annually depending on how fast a pace your business is growing and changing.


The idea of empowering your employees to make critical decisions without management interference may terrify some business leaders. Laszlo Bock, President of People Operations for Google, described it as letting the ‘lunatics run the asylum’, but it’s worked for Google!

By delegating authority to others, managers and senior executives free up their time to focus on other projects. You can share information, resources and skills across the workforce so that individuals or teams can come together to solve problems, improve service and innovate.

By giving them the opportunity and making them accountable you will be developing leaders of the future, improving problem-solving skills and giving them a sense of ownership of your organisation.

If your leaders are serving to empower employees, to act as coach, to bring out the best in them, to develop, educate, inspire, then employees will respond with innovation, collaboration and improving their working environment.

Ultimately, we are looking to create an environment where everyone can take ownership, where everyone feels able to contribute and change processes. It starts with empowerment and leaders who can stand aside, acting as mentors, not dictators.


A great example of an organisation working at scale through shared values and principles is Essilor. Essilor has over 60,000 employees, with a global reach and serves over 50% of the contact lenses to consumers around the world in a €6.7 Billion business per year.

Their values are:

Working Together


Respect & Trust

Entrepreneurial spirit


Or WIRED for short.

For the full PDF version click here:

This quote sums up their culture and shared vision beautifully:

“We form a community of entrepreneurs based on shared trust and mutual respect. Motivated by a spirit of initiative, we make diversity one of our strengths, thanks to our culture of strong collective involvement. We are thus able to take risks and to learn from our successes, but also from our mistakes.”[8]

Everything they do is underpinned by their values.

When I met Bernhard Nuesser, (then President for Europe Region & Instruments Division), for the first time he was just about to assume a new role as President of their newly acquired online division. I was listening to his presentation about Essilor just after they had bought the MyOptique Group Ltd in August 2016 and there was a Q & A afterwards for team members. I remember one colleague asking a question about customer retention, brands and how much influence Essilor’s brand will now have over the MyOptique brand. Within her question she made a half-hearted, jovial comment about ‘well as long as we make money right?’… immediately Bernhard closed her down. Very politely, very confidently Bernhard highlighted the Essilor values. Although in 2015 they declared revenue of over €6.7 Billion, they exist not just to make money but to make access to eyewear available to everyone in the world. He went on to point out that the money they make is reinvested immediately into their Corporate Social Responsibility programmes funding research and making them a sustaining business, and not just to line shareholder pockets.

It was a poignant moment. The MyOptique employees looked a little bewildered, but it was a great moment that affirmed how Bernhard upheld the Company values.


Employee empowerment and employee voice are significantly interlinked. It is no good to say that you empower employees if when they speak up about issues they are ignored.

The type of employee voice mechanism which you choose for your organisation is entirely individual to your Company situation. Whether it’s a simple suggestion box, a monthly forum meeting with elected representatives or a more formal collective agreement, it does not matter. What matters most is that the voices and opinions of employees are heard AND ACTED UPON. I cannot stress enough how NOT acting upon the information received can be more damaging than if you didn’t receive the information in the first place!

Not only are the voices heard, but actions are taken to address concerns and feedback is given to the employees. There needs to be a sensible mechanism for feeding back decisions to employees. You might find you have 20 suggestions put before you, but only 2 or 3 of those can be implemented. It is important to share why those 2 or 3 initiatives have been supported and why the others haven’t.

One example which I really like is from Quirk advertising agency. I came across this on Alexander Kjerulf’s blog “The Chief Happiness Officer” which can be found at:

The principle idea is a visual pin board placed in the workplace. Employees have an idea, then solicit support for this idea from co-workers, you need a minimum number of supporters per idea (in Quirk’s case it’s 12) in order for your idea to move to the next stage. If you don’t get this initial support your idea is moved to the ‘Graveyard’. If your idea gets the support and moves on, then the proposer writes a 1 page proposal document which goes before the senior exec team to be considered, and it moves onto the ‘Ideas in Motion’ section. Once approved it moves onto the ‘It’s happening’ section, if it’s not approved by the exec team it can be taken to a companywide vote and this can override the exec team’s decision and get the idea pushed through. It’s extremely visual and everyone can see what’s going on.

Alexander explains the full concept here:

Whilst this may not be practical in your organisation, why not take a look at different layers of voice mechanisms. Maybe local team decisions can be taken for certain aspects, whilst group level decisions remain with an elected forum or management.

The worst thing that you can do is to give your employees a voice but then not listen to it. People become despondent very quickly when they feel they are not being listened to or they feel the voice programme is a token effort.

Remember there is knowledge and wisdom amongst all of us. Having insights from around the business should actually enhance decision making processes for management. Organisational effectiveness and high quality decisions can be arrived at by seeking employee input at all levels.

The Company Culture Checklist:

  • Do you have leaders with vision?

  • Do your managers empower their teams?

  • Do you have a clearly defined mission?

  • Do you have a clearly defined vision?

  • Do you have defined values?

  • Do you have a robust employee voice mechanism?

As you work towards creating a positive Company culture remember the key is 4 main components:

1. Vision

2. Empowerment

3. Values

4. Voice



[3] [4]


[6] [7]


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