Business Transformation

Can workplace culture really be influenced?

Shane Michael Hatton

When it comes to building a business, every leader fundamentally understands the importance of a clear and intentional strategy. We recognise the consequences of a haphazard approach to finances or governance. But how many leaders are fully aware of the impact of an unintentional approach to organisational culture?

While strategy, budgets and policies can be developed, influenced, adjusted and implemented, can the same be said of culture? Is great culture something that can really be influenced, or does it just happen? Is the culture you want up to luck and a good hiring policy or can it be shaped with the people you have right now?

In a McCrindle study we commissioned of 1,000 Australian managers, we wanted to learn about their beliefs and experiences with building and shaping culture. Almost all managers in our study (99%) believe that culture plays an integral role in the overall success of an organisation. Eighty three per cent of managers said it has the most significant impact on employee engagement, however its impact can be felt across the business in areas like inclusion and diversity, psychological safety, staff attraction and retention and achievement of organisational goals. 

However, when we explored whether participants believe culture can be influenced, the answer was divided. When asked how much they agreed with the statement ‘culture cannot be influenced it just happens’, half of the managers agreed.

What emerged from our conversations was a distinction between culture by default versus a culture by design.

Can culture be influenced? The answer is ‘no’ if you interpret that question to mean, ‘Can you do anything to influence whether culture exists or not?’ Each day, a leader and their team make decisions that shape the culture, so every team has a culture (even if it’s not the culture you want). When it comes to building the culture you want, managers told us that is definitely something that can and should be influenced.

If you are going to influence the culture you have and create the culture you want, here are three things it will take.

  • Building a strong culture takes a leader
    The results were clear that managers see culture as an integral part of the success of an organisation. However, while the priority of culture is clear, the responsibility of who shapes culture remains somewhat confusing. When interviewing more senior leaders, they speak of the vital role that managers play in shaping the culture. When asking managers, two thirds of respondents point to the top layers of the organisation for setting and leading the culture. While it might be true that everyone in the organisation is responsible for helping shaping the culture, for culture to be intentional it takes a leader to step forward and take the lead. Even in an organisation where a culture is clearly defined, it takes a leader of a team to bring it life.
  • Building a strong culture takes intention
    Tory Eletto is quoted as saying “What isn’t communicated, is felt. What is felt, is interpreted. What is interpreted is often inaccurate”. Too often culture is left open to interpretation and defaults to the sum average of the ‘way we do things’.To shape a culture  by design it needs to be intentionally defined and explicitly communicated. Each person on the team should be clear on the culture they are working towards and the part they play in shaping it.
  • Building a strong culture takes time and investment
    Our research told us that most people leaders spend an average of three to four hours a month investing in culture. And yet, almost nine in ten leaders told us they felt like they should be doing more. While it might be tempting to ask, ‘How much time should I invest in culture?’ instead consider asking, ‘How can I ensure that culture is consistently central to our most important conversations?’ If you are committed to influencing culture, you need to be prepared to play a long game with a commitment to daily decisions.

Strong culture starts with an intentional leader and that leader can be you. While you may not be able to influence whether culture exists, you can influence what kind of culture exists if you are willing and ready to invest the time and effort.


Written by Shane Michel Hatton.
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Shane Michael Hatton
Shane Michel Hatton, author of Let's Talk Culture – The conversations you need to create the team you want (Major Street Publishing $32.99), is an expert in leader communication, blending his experience in business and psychology to help leaders communicate, connect and collaborate more effectively in order to bring out the best in those they lead.


Shane Michel Hatton is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.