The Importance of Culture by Roderic Yapp

'Culture is how people behave when no-one is watching’. That was the definition used by Bob Diamond, the Chief Executive of Barclays Bank. Under his tenure, Barclays’ employees were found to be rigging the LIBOR rate for which the bank was fined £290mn. I doubt Bob knew that this was going on but he has to take some responsibility for creating a culture which allowed this to happen. It is an example of how the ‘win at all costs’ mentality can have disastrous consequences.

Culture is important; it should be a reflection of the organisational values – that only happens when the leaders behave and lead by example in accordance with those values. It doesn’t matter what is written on the walls of the conference room or on your website, what you measure and what you reward will always be the reflection of your culture.

When I was growing up, my parents explained to me the importance of job security and how knowing where each paycheck was coming from was essential in being able to plan for the future. Job security and pensions were important to the baby-boom generation. It seems to me that many of them saw work as a means to an end, a regular paycheck to provide for your family. Many people still see work through that lens.

However, I suspect that times are changing. I think that the millennial generation wants more from their careers. I’ve met many who want the satisfaction that they are working for an organisation that makes the world a better place. The offer of job security in return for delivering shareholder value or profits doesn’t seem to motivate them  – if it ever really motivated anyone! Life for many people now is more about enjoying the present, living for the moment and showing it all on social media.

The culture of an organization is gradually becoming more important as people start to expect more from their work. A quick review of the site illustrates what people think of an organisation’s culture. Whilst some of the reviews might be from disgruntled employees, they illustrate what people think about the company culture, which is a reflection of the organisation’s leadership.

These reviews are important. Businesses need good people to thrive. The Internet has made it easy for people to tell others what an organisation is really like – as opposed to the marketing spin. It has also made the whole process of recruitment and changing careers far easier. This makes it easier for people to leave if they’re unhappy. The ‘pull’ factor is stronger now. Recruiters don’t just target the boardroom; they have a much greater visibility deep into the company. They can connect with a corporation’s best people and tempt them away to competitors. The Internet makes it easier for the disaffected to move and find an organisation that gives them what they want.

When people believe that they are in the right place, when they believe that they have a Boss with their best interests at heart – someone who knows what it is they want and is actively helping them to get there, they’re more inclined to stay. When they have strong relationships with their co-workers, when they believe that they are fairly treated – these factors create a culture that will keep talented people with you and attract them to you.

Paying a decent wage is not enough. More and more young people seem to want more from their careers. How are you actively training and developing them? How are you helping them to get whatever it is they want for their future? These are the types of leaders that the millennial generation wants. These are the people that will provide guidance and direction. They give their people far more than a paycheck and in the long run, they will contribute far more to the success of a company than any strategy ever could.

Strategy is about the direction in which a company wants to go – it is a plan to achieve the vision. Bold strategies need talented people to be able to deliver them. A company’s leadership, reflected in its culture is crucial to its delivery. The strategy is the plan of the route but it’s pointless if your vehicle is in poor shape.

People that are hired by an organisation should add to its culture. They should share the company’s values and the excitement for why the business exists. These people will give you discretionary effort because they believe in what they’re doing – they’re not going to clock in at nine and leave at five. They are aligned with why the company exists and they want to work to make it successful.

If you think culture is ‘pink and fluffy’ and that it doesn’t drive hard results, you could well be missing something that will be crucial to the long-term success of your business. If you’re not actively building the culture you want, you may have to try and do it retrospectively – this can be very difficult.

If you’re looking at making a career move, check the reviews on as part of your search process. My favourite interview question has always been, ‘how would you describe the culture of the organisation?’ Ask a few people – it’s always interesting to see their response.


The Business Transformation Network has posted this article in partnership with the Leadership Forces blog.


Roderic Yapp is a specialist leadership consultant and accredited coach. He supports major business transformations by improving the capability of leaders so that they can execute the transformation strategy.

Roderic is an International Coaching Federation professionally accredited coach who has specialist experience in developing people in sectors where ‘leadership failure’ usually results in death or critical injury.

He has significant experience in leadership development, major business transformations and operational excellence with companies such as Deloitte, Fidelity, HSBC, the John Lewis Group, Jaguar Land Rover, Urenco and the NHS.

Roderic Yapp