3 MARCH, 2016


Organisational culture is the way in which the people of an organisation relate to each other, their work, and the outside world. Your culture can either enable or hinder your organisation’s strategy. Culture is also seen as the operating system of an organisation, or the pattern of behaviour that determines how things are done in an organisation. And a strong organisational culture is critical to business success.

Here, we’ll take a look at the dimensions of organisational culture, how an organisation’s culture affects employee motivation, and how you can change the culture of your organisation for financial and operational success.

6 dimensions of organisational culture

According to Geert Hofstede’s Multi-Focus Model on Organisational Culture, there are six autonomous dimensions of organisational culture.

Means vs goal-oriented

In a means-oriented culture, people identify with ‘how’ work gets done. They avoid risks and make only a limited effort in their jobs. In a goal-oriented culture, people identify with ‘what’ work gets done. The focus is on achieving specific internal goals or results, even though these involve considerable risks.

Internally vs externally driven

In an internally driven culture, people feel that they know what is best for the clients and customers and act accordingly, and business ethics and honesty matter most. In an externally driven culture, the emphasis is on meeting the needs and wants of customers, results matter most, and a pragmatic attitude prevails.

Easygoing vs strict work discipline

In an easygoing culture, the internal structure is loose, there’s a lack of predictability, and there’s also little control and discipline. On the other hand, a strict culture is quite the opposite, with people being punctual, serious and conscious of costs.

Local vs professional

In a local culture, people identify with their boss and/or teammates. They’re focused internally and on the short term, and need to be like everyone else. In a professional culture, people identify with their profession and/or the content of the work. They’re focused externally and on the long term, and don’t have to be like everyone else.

Open vs closed system

In an open culture, new employees are welcomed easily, people are inclusive, and they believe that anyone will fit in well with the organisation. This is reversed in a closed culture, with people being exclusive and newcomers having to prove themselves.

Employee vs work-oriented

In an employee-oriented culture, the organisation takes into account its employees personal problems and takes responsibility for their welfare, even if it’s at the expense of productivity. In a work-oriented culture, the focus is on high task performance, which can come at the expense of employees.

How culture affects employee motivation

An organisation’s culture, including its motivational practices and processes, can affect the motivation of its people.

Motivational practices

People work for six main reasons: play, purpose, potential, emotional pressure, economic pressure and inertia. While the first three motives help increase performance, the last three don’t. And a high-performing culture maximises the good motives and minimises the bad ones.

Good motives

The good motives – play, purpose and potential – are directly connected to the work itself and will improve performance.

  • Play – You’re motivated by the job itself, and you work because you enjoy it.
  • Purpose – The work outcome fits your identity, and you work because you value the job’s impact.
  • Potential – The work outcome benefits your identity or the job enhances your potential.

Bad motives

The bad motives – emotional pressure, economic pressure and inertia – are indirectly connected to the work itself and will reduce performance.

  • Emotional pressure – You work because an external force (fear, peer pressure or shame) threatens your identity, and you want to avoid disappointing yourself or others.
  • Economic pressure – An external force makes you work in order to gain rewards or avoid punishment.
  • Inertia – You can’t identify the reason why you’re working.

Maximising the good motives and minimising the bad ones is known as creating total motivation. And an organisation that motivates its employees more through play, purpose and potential, and less through emotional pressure, economic pressure and inertia, will produce better customer outcomes.


An organisation’s processes can positively or negatively affect employee motivation depending on how well- or poorly-designed the process are. These include role design, organisational identity, career ladders, community, workforce and resource planning, leadership, compensation, adaptive governance processes, and performance review. In a high-performing culture, these processes maximise total motivation.

Changing the culture of an organisation

If you wish to change the culture of your organisation – like modifying the way people behave and work – to gain competitive advantage and achieve long-term financial and operational success, follow these steps:

  1. Work with and within your current culture by understanding it, knowing which traits are preeminent and consistent, and determining the types of conditions in which these traits will most likely be a help or a hindrance.
  2. Promote awareness of the new culture by advertising it around your company, including descriptions of the new behaviours, processes, policies and practices to be implemented.
  3. Change key behaviours like those relating to empowerment (reduce the number of approvals required for decisions), collaboration (set up easy ways to assemble joint projects) and interpersonal relations (devise mutually respectful practices for raising controversial issues or grievances), and people will start to think and behave the same way.
  4. Focus on a few important behaviours that positively affect business performance (ways of starting a meeting or talking with a customer), and that would have a huge impact if practiced by a number of selected people who can help spread them.
  5. Utilise your authentic informal leaders who can influence behaviour through ‘showing by doing’ and spread behaviours from the bottom up. They are pride builders (master motivators of other people and catalysts for improvement around them), exemplars (role models), networkers (personal communication hubs within the organisation), and early adopters (take up and experiment with new technologies, processes and ways of working).
  6. Still make use of your formal leaders (e.g. managers) in order to safeguard and champion desired behaviours, energise personal feelings, and reinforce cultural alignment. If people at the top demonstrate the change they want to see, others will be sure to follow. But first, give them time to learn and practice the new behaviours (showing more respect, listening better to others, etc.), assess each person to see where they can improve, and hold them accountable for their actions.
  7. Choose behaviours to implement that will meet business objectives, like improving performance and financial outcomes. Also select behaviours that can be measured over time.
  8. Demonstrate the impact of cultural changes on business results quickly so people will continue to implement and believe in them. You can stage a performance pilot, or a high-profile demonstration project, which introduces specific behaviours that you can evaluate and assess. Use a dashboard defining desired impacts, tactics used, and specific metrics to be employed.
  9. Go viral by using cross-organisational methods, such as spreading ideas across organisational departments and functions, from top to bottom, and from bottom to top. You can also spread ideas via social media from some of your authentic informal leaders. Changes that are recommended or shared by friends, family, co-workers and other people are more likely to go viral.
  10. Align informal mechanisms and cultural interventions with formal organisation components. The reason is that the formal organisation offers a rational motivation for employee actions, and with the informal organisation, employees will become emotionally committed, leading to high performance.
  11. Actively manage your organisational culture over time, including monitoring and updating it. This will ensure that your culture is still good enough for tomorrow and beyond. And aligning your culture with current and future strategic and operating priorities can quickly accelerate changes and make them last.