Putting people at the centre of culture change


Is your organisation’s culture holding you back from success? You could have a clear vision (your Why), great systems and processes (your What), but if your culture isn’t healthy (your How), you’ll never bring people with you.

That’s why I offer people-centred solutions to today’s big leadership challenges. This is how you bring people with you, and how you achieve transformational culture change.

If you think about your Why, What and How as a model for the development of your organisation, when you put people at the centre, you will support your strategy and your systems, while also driving improvement in engagement, accountability and performance.

A People-Centred Organisation

Peter Drucker once said “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. I love developing strategy, and I believe it’s crucially important, but I’m with Peter Drucker on this one. Even the most visionary strategy won’t be implemented successfully if it doesn’t align with your organisation’s culture, and if your culture is not healthy.

If you’re hungry to get better results for your organisation, a people-centred approach to culture change is how you harness the contribution of your whole team, and get their buy-in to culture change.

Culture change starts at the top so the change process begins with leaders developing themselves. It’s as much a personal development journey as it is a professional development journey. It’s fair to say, this is never easy. You will be challenged to step out of your comfort zone into your courage zone, and to change the way you lead.

The good news is, these are skills you can learn. I teach leaders some essential skills in mindfulness and emotional intelligence. This gives them the courage to lean in and talk about the tricky issues they’re facing, but which they often avoid:

😔 Mental health
😨 Stress and burnout
😡 Bullying
🥺 Discrimination
🥵 Toxic workplace

🥴 Overwhelming workload
🤡 Owning up to mistakes
😲 Poor performance
👺 Unethical behaviour
💩 Communication breakdown 

🤑 Money
🎃 Organisational change
😵 Lack of focus
😷 A pandemic
🤐 Something else?

The people-centred approach to culture change emphasises the critical importance of psychological safety. This means creating a team environment where people feel safe to speak up, acknowledge and learn from mistakes, and have courageous conversations. I really believe this is an essential pre-requisite for any courageous leader who wants to tackle their leadership challenges in a people-centred way. As they do so, they will be also be leading culture change.

What is people-centred culture?


Culture is the accepted social order of an organisation which both reflects and shapes the values and behaviours of its people. Cultural norms define what is encouraged and discouraged in order to belong in the organisation.

It seems obvious that culture change should be people-centred, but it takes some learning – and commitment – to really put people at the centre of your efforts to bring about culture change. The first step is understanding why people-centred culture matters and how it changes every-thing.

People-centred culture embraces who people are, and how they want to work, in order to inspire performance. When your people are aligned with your organisation’s culture, this can be seen and felt by your customers, and this ultimately drives results and growth.

We’re all responsible for culture, but it’s so true that culture change starts at the top. If you’re a leader, this means culture change begins with you. If you have an HR Department, they will be a crucial partner who will assist you, but as the leader, you can’t completely delegate this responsibility. 

Getting clear about your culture aspirations


Start by getting clear about the type of culture you want to create for your organisation, and work on really living that culture yourself. Your organisational culture could be:

  • A performance culture
  • A service culture
  • A wellbeing culture
  • A culture of care
  • A safety culture
  • An inclusion culture
  • A kindness culture
  • A feedback culture
  • An accountability culture
  • A learning culture
  • An innovation culture
  • A results culture

There are many more!   No matter what type of culture you aspire to, all culture says something about the way you value people, work with them, serve them, and inspire them.

What kind of culture do you aspire to? Are you well on your way to achieving this aspiration, and living your organisation’s culture? How do you bring people with you as you lead culture change?

Bringing people with you


As leaders, we focus on the performance of individuals and teams in order to drive results. When I thought about what it would look like to put these four elements of an organisation together (individuals, teams, performance and results), I came up with four ways to build a people-centred culture which I’ve captured in a quadrant model. These are also the four core types of people-centred culture, under which I’ve identified another twenty types of organisational culture, as described below.

There are potentially many more types of people-centred culture that could come out of this model, reflecting the many ways in which organisations put people at the centre of their culture.

People-Centred Culture Model
Quadrant 1 – Support

Supporting people enables them to perform at their best so they can achieve excellence and results. Support is felt by the people we lead when we demonstrate care, and commit to wellbeing and safety, both physical and psychological. We offer flexibility in work arrangements, while also having systems in place to ensure accountability.

Quadrant 2 – Connection

We inspire the performance of teams and empower them to provide great service to customers or clients by building team connection. Connection grows and becomes embedded in our culture when we relate to each other with kindness, building inclusion and trust. We then have the courage to give and receive fearless feedback, and work together to build collaboration.

Quadrant 3 – Excellence

Excellence becomes possible when we embrace and model the type of curiosity that supports growth and learning, and discover new ways to work with adaptability in the face of 21st century challenges. This creates the conditions where people are ready for challenge, and innovation flourishes.

Quadrant 4 – Service

With service, we inspire customer loyalty because customers can see and feel the culture you’ve created, and they’re aligned with the purpose and values you demonstrate and communicate. Customers value the quality and responsiveness you offer, and report satisfaction with the services you provide.  There are no better results than this!

Think again about the type of organisational culture you aspire to create. Where do the elements of your culture fit within the People-Centred Culture Model?

Would you love to bring people-centred culture to life in your organisation? If it’s time to get going with culture change, reach out and ask me how. 

Maria Brett
The Growing Edge

Maria Brett is a former CEO who has been a practitioner of mindfulness for more than 25 years. Maria’s Courageous Leadership Program helps participants make deep and lasting to the way they lead, including how to lead culture change.  To find out more, contact Maria.

© Maria Brett, 2022