10 Signs Your organisation is Paying Lip Service to Culture

Colin Ellis
3 min readMar 14


Are you all talk and no action? 📷Kelly Sikkema

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I spent last week working with a client in Europe that is committed to doing the right things when it comes to building and maintaining a vibrant global culture. Not only in the way that we are designing the education program, but also in the way that leadership is role modelling the importance of its application.

Unfortunately, most people’s experience of culture is the opposite of this. It’s leadership teams saying one thing and doing another. Here are some signs that your organisation may be paying lip service to its culture:

  1. Your managers don’t embody the values — values are ‘rolled out’, printed out, used as laptop screensavers or added to team meeting agendas (‘Values Moments’), but your managers don’t consistently role model these values
  2. Your purpose isn’t lived — it’s one thing saying that you stand for something (locally, nationally or globally) and quite another to be deliberate about the way that this is lived through the working day and used as a basis for decision-making
  3. Your managers aren’t taught how to build culture — consistent high performance is expected of every team, yet your managers aren’t provided with the skills required to build and maintain high performance. Instead, it’s simply assumed that they know how to do it. Most managers don’t
  4. Feedback from surveys is never acted upon — you go to the time and effort of thinking of the questions, sending the survey out, then getting your managers to remind people to do it. But when you receive the feedback, you do nothing with it
  5. The behaviours of one individual are allowed to undermine the team — your managers are afraid or apathetic in dealing with poor performance and poor behaviour which inevitably leads to the culture becoming toxic and affecting the performance (and often the health) of others
  6. There isn’t a year-long plan of events to stimulate the culture — culture is seen as static rather than evolutionary, and planning a series of culture events to energise the staff isn’t important, unless it can be posted about on LinkedIn and provide the illusion of vibrancy
  7. You hire people to do work, not contribute to the values — workforce planning is so bad that you often just need someone with a pulse to ‘hit the ground running’ on a long list of tasks rather than onboarding someone elegantly so they can contribute to the values immediately
  8. When money is tight development programs are the first things you cut — individual or team development (the things required to build and evolve vibrant culture) are seen as immediately dispensable when budgets have to be reworked or else you sacrifice culture for the latest pet project
  9. You frown upon social activity during the working day — activities to help teams to build relationships during the week are seen as an inefficient use of time, rather than critically important to strengthening the bonds between humans and ultimately elevating productivity and a sense of collective belonging
  10. You and your leaders talk about culture but aren’t prepared to invest time and money into it — it always plays second fiddle to every other thing on the leadership team agenda, despite culture being the foundation for all success

Organisations that say culture is a priority, but lack the conviction to undertake any real activity to support it, will create the conditions for the culture to stagnate or, worse, become toxic. They’ll look to blame others for its inevitable poor performance, when the buck stops with the leadership team and their commitment to culture.



Colin Ellis

Best-selling Author of Culture Fix | Keynote Speaker | Facilitator | Devoted Dad | Evertonian | Whisky Lover | Likes to laugh, a lot www.colindellis.com