Alert: There are humans at your place of work

The Humancentric Culture

Workplace culture starts from the inside. Human beings desire to be connected, to fulfill their purpose and to add value. Enabling the humans in your workplace to fulfill these desires is essential for a leader in building up culture. The key to unlocking this process is in supporting a human’s desire for autonomy – the ability to determine one’s own means and methods to accomplish work goals. In every role and in every environment there is opportunity to support autonomy.

Authors Margaret Wheatley in her article “Goodbye, Command and Control ” and Daniel Pink’s “Drive” reinforce this idea that autonomy is a need for people at work. People are more likely to be engaged with work tasks when they experience their own reward by determining their own way to carry out tasks. Encouraging autonomy in the workplace can seem to leaders like opening a Pandora’s box: How will progress be tracked and measured? How will I know if people are doing their work?  

Enabling a culture of autonomy may seem counter-intuitive to ensuring accountability and deliverables. However, intrinsic motivation works by enabling people to experience the rewards they naturally feel when they choose to engage in a particular behaviour. For example, I like to determine for myself when to engage in group process or when I work solo on an aspect of a project. I know when I should be in the office environment to engage with others and when working from home is best. When I am able to make this determination for myself and carry out my decision I feel engaged and energized about my work.

The hard part for leaders is to give up the control-and-command approach in favour of an environment that promotes self-determination. To enable this shift in culture, leaders can start with developing a better understanding of their own sense of what  autonomy means to them in their work, their leadership style and what giving up the control-and-command approach would mean for them in practice.

Reinforcing the human side of workplace culture enables people to meet these three primary desires: to be connected, to have purpose and to add value. Creating a culture with these values underpinning the work means that leaders can trust that the people in their organization will be vested in carrying out tasks necessary to meet the desired business outcomes.

Leveraging Culture to Drive Change in Organisations

Change happens. 

Driving change in an organization requires many tools and culture is one. Culture is generally defined as “the way we do things around here”.  Authors, Katenbach,Oelschlegel and Thomas say culture is developed through mind sets, recurring behaviours and symbolic artifacts (

Culture is really the heart of the organization. This metaphor connotes the image of a pulse – the very essence of life. That is what culture is: the lifeblood of the organization where purpose lives.

The drivers of change in organizations flow from many different sources including regulation changes, technological improvements, market conditions, and scaling efforts. These changes introduce new variables into the system and, as Systems Theory tells us, a system seeks to maintain homeostasis. The system rejects these new inputs and seeks to correct the upset by returning to its former state.

Culture is a tool for bringing people through the change. Culture serves to reinforce the purpose of the company through the adoption of specific mind sets and recurring behaviours necessary for the company to achieve its strategic goals and desired business outcomes. Tactile signposts along the way serve to reinforce what employers want employees to think, feel and believe. 

For a change manager, the first step is to raise awareness and desire for the change first with leaders, then with employees. Leadership sets the frame for the change in determining the mindset they want their people to develop. However, the most important factor to real change is behaviour. The saying goes “change behaviours and mind set follows”. Change managers work with leaders to identify how their behaviours create the mindset and what recurring behaviours are necessary to achieve the strategic goals.  

Culture embodies the organization’s purpose and creates the emotional responses in how and what employees think, feel and believe at work.  Working with leaders to develop a culture that is aligned with the strategic goals of the organization raises an awareness and desire for change. Understanding the important role culture plays in business outcomes incentivizes leaders to examine their role in creating the right  cultural frame for employees.

Placing nudges in the workplace might help your bottom line.

leadership nudge

Nudging is an interesting concept I talk about in my workshops on changing organizational culture. Nudging theory was developed by economists Thayer and Sunstein in 2008. A nudge is defined as an action “influencing behaviour without coercion”. Nudges are not tied to financial incentives but rather they direct choices towards optimal behaviours.

I am fascinated by the concept of nudging as it blends behavioural science, behavioural economics and political theory. Do we really have free will? Well, that’s a good question and one I would love to debate!

As far as developing the leadership tool box goes, nudging makes sense in the workplace. Culture is constructed by keystone behaviors – recurring behaviors that trigger other behaviours. An effective method to cue teams to adopt a desired behaviour is through a nudge. A commonly cited example is the placement of fruit at the front of the cashier line and the fries at the back nudges people to consider the healthier choice.

Nudges lead to changed behaviour which drives actions and outcomes that affect the bottom line. The good news is that nudges, according to Thayer and Sunstein, ought to be easy and inexpensive so developing a nudge in your workplace is something everyone can do.

What is the “fruit choice“ in your organization? What behaviours are you trying to encourage and what would a nudge look like? 

#projectrescuers #behaviouraleconomics #nudging #changemanagement #projectmanagement