Have you ever wondered…What makes a great organizational culture? How culture impacts and influences organizational performance? Why so many attempts to create great cultures fail? What we can do to approach culture change in a more sustainable way?


“I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game; it is the game.” (Lou Gerstner – IBM)


Today, the discipline of organizational culture has taken centre stage in the management world. It is not surprising that a Google search on “organizational culture” yields about 2.79 million results. Culture really matters and ignoring culture will leave in its wake, a large trail of struggling, underperforming or uninspired businesses and organizations around the world.


Study after study show that there is breakthrough value to be created with culture transformation. One such research found that; “84% said that the organization’s culture was critical to the success of change management, and 64% saw it as more critical than strategy or operating model.” – Survey by Katzenbach Center – quoted in a Strategy + Business Article; June 6, 2014


At a recent HR conference in London, Kevin Green, founder of What’s Next Consultancy and ex-HRD at Royal Mail, confidently declared that 85% of future value creation will come from the intangibles of the organization (in other words by accessing and unleashing the tremendous Human Potential that is dormant or sometimes even suppressed in organizations).


He went on to say:

  • Leaders are experiencing an overwhelm of information and yearn to get back to basics / simplicity (ie: human connection)
  • HR is at a tipping point. As a function we need to “get on the offensive” and lead the human capital revolution.
  • Reinventing culture is a £400M opportunity in the UK alone. Key focus areas need to be on building a coaching culture amongst line managers as they are the bridges between high level vision / strategies and operational activities.
  • Changing mindset and improving employee experience (vs structure and tech skills) are the two most critical focus areas to access the 85% of intangible value in the organization.
  • Need to change mindset on talent. It’s not the people that are in the spotlight that usually create the most value. Rather it’s the “unsung heroes” who do the critical behind the scenes work that need to be acknowledged.


“… more than 60% of change projects are people related, and they stumble on … trying to transform employees’ attitudes and management behavior”[ Kotter 1995, McKinsey 2002 & 2008, and Prosci 2005, 2009]


The evidence is overwhelmingly clear. 85% of future value creation will come from the intangibles (i.e., the human lever) of the organization. However, our HR interventions do not yet reflect this knowledge and understanding. There is a big gap between what we KNOW and what we DO. This is not a judgment, it’s simply a reality we must acknowledge in the midst of these transformational times. The following framework by Edgar Schein (thought leader in organizational culture and transformation) helps us understand why this disconnect exists and what needs to be done before it can come back into alignment.



The theory goes that the top and bottom of the pyramid are ALWAYS aligned. In other words, our observable behaviours are inevitably an expression of our unconscious thoughts, beliefs and assumptions about the organization/the world and are influenced by the dynamics that are at play in the organization. For example an individual who exhibits excessively competitive behaviour (top of the pyramid) probably sees the world through a scarcity lens. In this case the core assumption or belief is that for one person to win another must lose (bottom of the pyramid).


The middle of the pyramid represents the intentions of the organization (values, vision, strategies). So let’s say the organization has set the intention to become more collaborative and as a result puts in place state-of-the-art systems and processes to make it easier for people to collaborate. Chances are very small that this will translate into the desired new behaviours (top of the pyramid). So simply changing the middle and expecting the top to follow is unrealistic and the main reason why so many well intentioned change programs fail.


Unless we work on the bottom layer and genuinely reassess our underlying belief systems and assumptions about the business and the organization we will not be able to create the sustainable changes in behaviour that we are aspiring for. This is of course very daunting work. It can feel like “opening Pandora’s Box”.


Because we don’t know what will be unleashed, is it not better to keep it tightly closed?


This is certainly the feeling many people have and undoubtedly one of the reasons why deeper, human centric HR interventions are avoided. It’s a fascinating paradox. One the one hand, addressing the bottom of the Schein pyramid offers the greatest hope, and on the other hand it also triggers the greatest fear.


As stewards and thought leaders of this work we have a deep compassion for leaders who are confronted with this dilemma. It’s a scary path to take and doesn’t come without risks. However, if executed with great care, it is possible to make the self realization journey more accessible and relevant to the organizational context. Creating transformational tools and methods that meet organizations where they’re at vs expecting them to take this huge leap of faith is what Being at Full Potential is all about. By quantifying the intangibles, we help shine the light on the invisible layer of culture. HR leaders now have a practical way to measure and release the 85% of intangible value and in doing so, it is possible to start harnessing the vast creative potential of their people. This goes a long way to bridge the gap between what we KNOW and what we DO and truly align all three layers of the Schein pyramid described above.


In our experience, when it comes to large scale organizational change journeys, there is no better place to start than with ourselves. As we grow in our leadership, so will we grow in our ability to inspire and engage other stakeholders throughout the organization and influence the dynamics that are at play.


Is this a challenge you are ready to take on? Do you want to courageously examine how some of your own beliefs may need to change in order to spark a deeper transformation within the organization? Let’s start with a simple exercise:


  1. How would an objective observer describe your behaviors at work? Would they describe you as action oriented, a critical thinker, perfectionist, a good listener…? Take a moment to write down what comes to mind.
  2. Check in with yourself where that behavior may be coming from. Is it just part of your personality or can you see that there is an unconscious belief or assumption that may be driving certain patterns of behavior. Take a moment to write down what comes to mind.
  3. Finally, ask yourself if there are any behaviors you would like to evolve / change for yourself in the future. And if so, is there a corresponding change at the belief or mindset level that needs to take place as well?


Is this a challenge you are ready to take on? Do you want to courageously examine how some of your own beliefs may need to change in order to spark a deeper transformation within the organization? We can help!