Composure | ‘Looking under the bonnet’: How Boards impact culture transformation…
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‘Looking under the bonnet’: How Boards impact culture transformation…

As seen in the recent BOSS Magazine article: ‘How boards can make Australian corporate culture the world’s best’ by John Brogden, culture continues to be in the spotlight for organisations. Intellectually and intuitively most people get the fact that a strong culture will make a difference to the performance of an organisation. That debate is well and truly over.

The debate on how to change a culture is where it becomes complex. The reason it becomes complex is due to the variety of factors that influence culture in organisational life. The 2016 UK study by the Financial Reporting Council, referenced by John Brogden, provides an excellent insight into the breadth of these factors.

For leaders, the question we often hear, is where do we start? The 3 areas to focus on include ‘context, content and process‘.

Each organisation has its unique ‘Context’. They maybe start-ups in a new competitive world, or a company that has to change due to a crisis, or a good company wanting to be great. The key is to be absolutely clear on your context, what needs to change, what you need to achieve and why. Your culture then gets created depending on what is important now and for the next 3 years.

‘Content‘ is the ability to bring your story together in a clear, consistent and compelling way. There are many ways a culture story can be explained. Too many organisations come up with a standard list of words and don’t put thought into bringing the story alive. A leader’s ability to communicate a culture in multiple ways is one of the weaker capabilities we see in organisations.. 

This leads to ‘Process’. Everything leaders do and say will influence and shape the real culture in an organisation. Too often organisations fail to think through not just what they will say, but how they will communicate the culture messages. For example, if you want to a collaborative culture, then don’t just present the culture in a town hall environment and have no involvement from the audience. The process is actually working against the stated culture, not enabling it.

Boards often have limited exposure to the ‘true‘ culture in an organisation. Therefore they need to tune in more to the cultural messages and be able to build a picture of the culture from a variety of indicators. They need to understand more deeply what drives behaviours both individually and collectively.

A Board member needs to ‘know their role and play their role‘. Their main role is to select the right CEO to drive the culture for success. In addition, they need to support the CEO by asking the right questions to ensure the organisation is truly working towards the desired culture, they need to be role models of the culture, and they need to be thoughtful in not only what they ask, but also how they ask.

Cultures get created from a range of messages from those in power. People take these messages and work out what it takes to ‘fit in‘. Over time these ‘fitting in’ behaviours become the norm, and the culture becomes entrenched. Boards have different levels of power. They need to find their voice and be willing to challenge and support leaders to create a culture of success.

Culture transformation will not happen overnight. It requires sustained effort over time.

When done well, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your working life and leave an extraordinary legacy. This is as applicable to Boards members as it is for any leader across an organisation.


Jeremy Nichols is the founder of Composure, a consulting firm specialising in culture and leadership, and author of ‘The Power of Culture‘. 

Written by:

Jeremy Nichols "The Strategist"

Jeremy Nichols, Managing Director

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