Culture is typically identified as ‘how things work’ in an organisation. While it is necessary for all leaders to shape their desired culture, most are at a loss at how to undertake this task. In order to do so, we must first understand that there are different elements in a culture: style, structure, and substance.

Style refers to cultural elements that are mostly intangible and invisible. They reflect social norms, belief systems, and the underlying philosophy of leaders. Structure refers to the processes and policies incorporated to shape an organisation’s behaviours. Finally, substance refers to cultural artifacts that are visible through our five senses.

Substance is the easiest way we can start shaping our culture. Here are some areas you can search for your quick wins.

What We See: Think of corporate colours, symbols, and dress codes. These are the elements we see whenever we step into an organisation. While it is simple, the consistency of what is visible often offers the members a sense of belonging. This would trigger thoughts such as: “I am in the right place; This is my extended family; We are one.”

What We Hear: What are the stories of your organisation? Key information such as the founding story, mission and vision, the growth story, milestone events, historic achievements, or even the lives of inspiring past figures of the organisation can provide an appreciation to what have been and how it would shape the organisation moving forward.

What Others Say: Often, third party endorsements can strengthen our sense of identity to an organisation, making us feel proud to be part of something larger. This would include media interviews and reports, knowledge publications originating from the organisation, awards and achievements, and even client testimonials. Do you keep tabs on these and make them visible to your people?

How We Feel: Beyond what we see, the workplace design can also shape how we feel. The mood, the lighting, the spatial design, the ergonomics of workspaces, among others, are often interpreted subconsciously as a certain work style in an organisation. Does the environment provide us a safe space to share? Do we practise open communication? Do we adopt informal discussions or formal meetings in decision-making?