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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Be prepared to shoot a captain for the culture you want

Be prepared to shoot a captain for the culture you want


An organisation's culture can be anything you want it to be. But be mindful - embedding your envisioned culture can be difficult and take time, writes Louise Hadland

Consistency is the secret to embedding a successful culture in the workplace. All policies must fall in line with that culture, as must communication, decisions, and actions.

This can be a bit of a problem when there is an odd partner or two who don't get this 'culture nonsense' and treat their teams very differently from other managers.

In any group of people there is likely to be a standard distribution of behaviour. Some 10 to 20 per cent catch on, think it's a great idea, and become your trailblazers and advocates. Some 60 per cent or so - the middle hump of the distribution curve - will watch for a while, and if the trailblazers show it is worth a bit of effort, they, too, will sign up.

In quite short order, the majority of the business will be signed up to the new culture and ways of working. But then there is that last 10 to 20 per cent who will not, no matter what you do to follow the party line. What you do not want, however, is the last 10 per cent of diehards taking all the time and attention that should be focused on the majority of the business that is moving to the required culture.

Some of them will quietly dissent, and it may be possible to 'park' them and just keep a watching brief, but if others are being disruptive then action has to be taken: no culture can withstand a senior person constantly chipping away at it. It is the problem of how you deal with those people - particularly successful, senior, high-profile people - who refuse to step into line. As more organisations make a play of their culture being a key part of their brand, then branding principles need to be brought to bear on the establishment of that culture.

Ideally, adherence to culture and reflecting the firm's values will be included in partner appraisals and have an impact on profit share; behaviour follows money and a reduction in pay is a very loud message that culture has teeth.

Those who still ignore what it is you are trying to do, cut through the values, and behave badly ultimately have to be let go. They may be a major rainmaker, but if they are so disruptive and undermining of what it is you are trying to achieve, they will do more damage to the business.

So, the brave organisations will be the ones who are prepared to shoot captains - but they will be better organisations because of it.

Any firm who has lost lawyers to an in-house role will know that we compete with employer brands outside as well as inside the legal sector. And they have been working on their cultures for many years as the connection between engaged, motivated people has been proved to deliver improved service. A strong employer brand is not about being 'nice' to your staff, it is about delivering service that ensures financial success. As such, when embedding a culture, consistency is critical.

I once attended a conference where the ex-chairman of John Lewis gave a speech on culture, and he used a great analogy illustrating how consistency is important when embedding a culture.

You are steering the boat and it takes a while to change direction. If you are impatient and indecisive and do not do things properly, you will oversteer the boat, slamming it from bank to bank. But if you tweak the wheel as change is required, the boat will come in to line without leaving those on board wondering where on earth the boat will go next.

Considering what this analogy means and adopting what this tells us will ultimately mean that when embedding a culture, your staff will know which way you are going because everything about your culture is consistent.

It also beautifully illustrates the point that defining a culture takes time. Look at, for instance, John Lewis. Their strapline has, for 160 years, been 'never knowingly undersold'. John Lewis and its strapline have stood the test of time and both staff and customers know what to expect of the department store.

So, decide who you want to be and define what you want to be. Be consistent in your application - coherence is needed between statement and action. And so, if absolutely necessary, shoot the captain.

Louise Hadland is HR director at Shoosmiths @Shoosmiths