Influencing workplace culture

So what exactly is workplace culture? And more importantly, how do you influence and change it? Matt Somers shares a useful model that might help.

As a learning and development practitioner, you’ll often come across the word ‘culture’. But it’s one of those things that probably means different things to different people. So what exactly is workplace culture – and, more importantly, how do you influence or change it? 

Through my work with Culture Partners I was introduced to this deceptively simple definition: Culture is experiences shaping beliefs, which drive actions and results. This can be shown in diagrammatic form as The Results Pyramid®.

The premise is that the results you achieve as an organisation are a consequence of the actions that your people take (or don’t). Such actions (or inaction) are driven by the beliefs that they hold, and those beliefs are informed by their experiences

So if you want to change results, you’ll need to change people’s experiences from the ones they are having now. Ultimately, you want their experiences to guide them towards taking appropriate action.

Early in my consulting career I worked with a public transport company. Results were poor, buses would habitually run late, trains were badly maintained and often cancelled. The customer experience was dreadful, journeys were a question of getting through a miserable time in an overcrowded, rubbish-strewn train carriage or bus. This might sound depressingly familiar!

To address this, the leadership team leapt into decisive action. Because employee turnover was running high, and with new recruits joining in numbers, they decided to focus their efforts on onboarding. Sessions concentrated on setting out why creating a positive customer experience was essential and they encouraged new drivers to be innovative in their approach to problem solving and super-flexible in their working patterns. At which point the leadership team, pleased with their efforts, waited for what they believed would be an inevitable upturn in fortunes.

Meanwhile, in the staff canteen, the longest serving drivers would sit and essentially hold court. The elders would regale new recruits with tales of how things really are around here. New starters would be encouraged to ignore what they’d been taught during onboarding, work to rule and treat customers as a bothersome interruption. This was undermining what the recruits had been told during onboarding. They came to believe ‘anything for an easy life’ and took action – in this case, non-action – in line with that. Consequently, the firm’s poor results stubbornly refused to change.

Things did get better – programmes focusing on leadership skills and change helped. But looking back I realise that we got stuck in what I now know as the action trap – working with a pyramid only two levels deep, taking action and expecting results.

Had I known about the Results Pyramid I would have been able to help them move beyond the stuff of management (actions and results). It’s essential to consider the experiences people are having and the beliefs they cause them to hold in order to create truly transformative, lasting change.

Tips to help you activate the culture you want in your charity:

The Results Pyramid model provides a useful way to pin culture down to something tangible. It also suggests ways of moving towards a desired culture by getting intentional around the employee or volunteer experience. A positive culture is not the result of a happy accident, it’s the outcome of becoming intentional and deliberate in crafting an appropriate employee experience. To achieve that, consider the following:

  • Clearly define your key results the two or three truly vital ones that must be achieved over the next couple of years 
  • Communicate your case for changeso that people understand what challenges your charity faces and how it must change to address them
  • Align around the changes neededensure that the senior leadership team has reached a consensus on the most vital results and are communicating them in a consistent way.
  • Empower employees with true accountability true accountability (not blame when things go wrong) means employees self-select the right actions by seeing their roles as achieving a result, not just completing tasks and duties.


About Matt Somers

Matt Somers works with leaders who want to improve results through people in three ways:

  • He provides one-to-one executive coaching to leaders who wish to improve their own performance
  • He provides coaching skills training to leaders who wish to drive better performance from their teams
  • And he provides change programmes for organisations that want a high performance culture to produce measurable results

To get in touch or find out more, please drop an email to or book a free consultation at


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