Why some leaders are obsessed with the “C” word.

 Written by Jennifer Kelly


The “C” word is usually spoken about at the end of year, when organisations are planning strategy and the “C” word can also appear when a new set of values are being pulled together by the executive team. However, this “C” is all around you, every day, in your team interactions, in how leaders interact, how your team delivers and even how your organisation hires talent and how talent makes this “C” fit their top criteria.

Yes, a lot of level 3, 4 and 5 leadership will talk about the “C” word. However, some leaders do not fully understand it. Do not worry, as many executives are in the same boat.


Yes, I am talking about “Culture”.

Andy Grove (Former chairman and CEO of Intel) shared that Culture is a set of values and beliefs as well as familiarity in the way things are done and should be done in a company. The point is that a strong corporate culture is essential. As an engineer, Grove equated culture with “Inefficiency” A manual for quicker more reliable decisions. When a company is culturally coherent, the way forward is understood.

All leaders are aware that having a good corporate culture within your organisation, has a great effect on employee morale, employee retention and hiring the right type of candidates and of course your recruitment efforts. However, culture runs deeper than that. Culture runs as deep as your operational execution and delivery of programs and right through to the alignment of your teams!


An organization often discovers its culture when things are going badly. A crisis will challenge leaders to relook at the way their teams are motivated to drive performance. A lesson from COVID-19 is that an organisation cannot run without the buy in, belief of what the company is about and the backing from their teams. A culture should withstand, most business “shocks” where protocol remains intact. another reason for relooking at culture may be, pressure from board members, investors, employees as they see the benefit of a strengthened company culture.

This pressure may lead to an “exercise” where soul-less values are printed and put on the walls covering the office locations or customer viewing points. The words are not reflected in the leadership team’s behavior and ring hollow to employees. The entire team can recognise the hypocrisy in this, and the process does more harm than good. A meaningful approach needs to happen. The Leadership need to understand that their belief in what the company is about and what it can achieve has a magnifying effect through the company.


Where to start when transforming a culture?

First start assessing what your culture is right now and where you want it to be. You can start this process by assessing the Organisational culture types here.

Start with the Organisational purpose - “WHY” the company does what it does. What belief the company has about what it does. A lot of executives avoid this topic, as it sounds fluffy. However, once the “Forward performance measures and operating financial results research” is understood, the topic gets much more attention.  

When applying McGregor’s theory X and Y to this example – many executives with the X belief may assume that their employees are just in the business for an income and to minimize any effort to themselves. They believe these employees respond well to only compensation. These are not always faulty assumptions, however, there are also theory Y executives who believe their employees want to be part of something bigger and with that belief will lead them to self-actualisation and achieving their personal goals.

How this plays out, is up to the executive and a self-fulfilling prophesy. Executives who believe in the theory X employees, exert more control, employees fail to see where opportunities lie in the organisation, are then are driven by money as a motivator, and are driven by only this. So, in times of difficulty, when employees are not receiving compensation and have no loyalty or belief in the purpose of the organisation, they will often jump ship.

Leaders have a choice. You can develop the company purpose, that inspires your team and builds authenticity, transparency and trust which helps guide your decisions. Where your team tries new things, are more risk takers and may surprise you in how they operate. Or go down the route of pressure and constant rolling the rock forward to achieve the desired impact.

1.Management support is critical
2.Engagement at all levels is critical
3.Humans are at the heart of any strategic delivery
4.Be prepared to challenge status quo
5.Be prepared for pushback
6.Learn from mistakes, build on success

There are many facets of cultural transformation, including alignment of strategy through the organisation, which I will write about in my next blog.

But for now, I hope you found this useful and understand the importance of this - By tapping into the cultural power, you can start to transform your organisation.


If you need any help in the areas of developing your “WHY” /Strategy to operational execution, contact me on: www.strategybox.ie

Thank you and keep safe.

Jennifer Kelly