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Our Friday video raised questions about how to create wellness including the importance of values. I’m not a fan of promoting values. I am a fan of behaviours.

What do others think?

Creating a workplace culture is, I am certain, the hardest form of communication. The complex issues at the Australian Federal Parliament on display last year and the apparently systemic issues in the Big 4 accounting firms speak to that.

For cut-through we need simplicity and ease of application. It can start with a leader’s guiding Principle, which might be ‘Work Hard; Play Hard’, or “Treat others as you want to be treated”. That Principle permeates the workplace, by people watching each other, especially their leaders, and by hearing leaders annunciate it, repeatedly.

The culture at Channel Nine when Sam Chisholm was CEO was ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’, because he did. It was hugely successful. The problem with following a leader’s Principle is that it can be too abstract, or too open to unintended consequences. At Channel Nine it led to a blokey culture.

That Principle can be elaborated on with a set of values, which can be pasted on the wall but, again, they too are abstract. Really, it’s behaviours that count. That’s why I say, annunciate them. Behaviours are not abstract – are easy to understand, and four or five are easy to remember.

The behaviours at our office are Excellence, Strong & Honest Relationships, Creativity, Nimbleness, and Constant Learning.  We are also guided by other behaviours, but those five define us. All the people in our office know our behaviours, and new employees need to display them during the interview process. It’s how we built a strong team.

A construction site will prioritise different behaviours, as will a ballet cast and crew.

Typically, the message gets weaker the further from the top, and there is an art to knowing the various ways to boost it. Again, those strategies and tactics vary in different situations; what works at Woolies or Coles is different from a trucking company.

There is of course cultural change from the bottom too. The hazards include negative office politics or worse abhorrent behaviours. To manage that we need to effectively listen or have ways to monitor. The horror of what allegedly happened to Brittany Higgins, and the numbing dysfunction amongst leaders that followed displayed a failure. The big four accounting firms continue to display dysfunction, the latest being a male partner for allegedly rating female colleagues’ attractiveness at blokey events.

Finally, but not lastly, we need to be clear on why we are developing a culture: most basically, it’s safety in an airline crew; in a football team it’s collaboration. But a higher reason is to keep people and maintain wellness. And those are important for yet a higher reason.

A useful technique for defining the ‘why’ is the Five Whys.

Author Peter Wilkinson

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