Company Culture: Embracing Shared Responsibility for Success


I recently read an article in HBR by Denise Lee Yohn, which really resonated with me. It talked about organisational culture being a shared responsibility of all in the organisation. This blog is not intended as a summary rather it examines some of the key points that I believe are relevant to SME’s.

In a rapidly changing business landscape, company culture is pivotal to organisational success. The traditional top-down approach to building company culture, where leaders dictate and employees follow, is no longer effective. This transformation has been expedited by various factors, including the disruptive impact of COVID-19 and the increasing emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). As a result, the present culture-building paradigm has emerged, one that places responsibility for culture on everyone within the organisation.

The New Shared-Responsibility Culture

The approach doesn’t view culture-building as a vague concept influenced by everyone but led by no one. Instead, it recognises that different individuals and functions within the organisation have distinct roles in shaping and sustaining the culture.

What is culture?

Culture is defined as the collective behaviour, attitudes, and beliefs that inform how work is done within an organisation. It encompasses both formal, stated norms and the implicit ways people interact.

So, what are the main aspects to the shared responsibility of culture paradigm? In its basic form it is about the share distribution of responsibilities:

1. CEO and Senior Management Team: They define and cultivate the desired culture through leadership actions, such as setting culture-oriented objectives and key results (which should include aspects of culture). They also design the organisation’s processes to support the culture.

2. Middle Managers: These leaders play a pivotal role in daily employee experiences. They can align their group function with the organisation’s culture through activities such as coaching and training. Importantly, they serve as culture role models. I believe that in SME business middle management hold the key to driving culture

Middle managers are often overlooked in culture-building efforts as it’s traditionally seen that the owner or CEO is solely responsible. Whilst this may be true, middle management are the drivers and implementers of culture, they must ensure that employees’ daily work experiences align with the organisation’s employee experience strategy. Whether that be in team meetings, one on one’s, performance catch ups. They are critical to actively communicating and role-modeling the desired culture.

3. Employees: All employees provide input on the desired culture and culture-building programs. They offer insights on how the desired culture aligns with or differs from the existing culture, customer perspectives, and employee needs. They also create, adhere to, and enforce routines and norms that reflect the desired culture.

A shared-responsibility approach to culture-building ultimately leads to a healthier, more aligned, and effective culture, which improves business performance.

Embracing Change and Adaptation

To succeed, changes to the culture must be explicitly communicated and vetted by all stakeholders, even if only some agree with them.

Organisational culture is no longer a top-down decree but a shared responsibility. A clear understanding with everyone working together to cultivate it. The CEO and senior management’s role is to prioritise culture and allocate the necessary resources to ensure its success.

Reference: Denise Lee Yohn. (2021, February 8). Company Culture Is Everyone’s Responsibility. Harvard Business Review.

Nick Hedges is the founder of Resolve HR, a Sydney-based HR consultancy specialising in providing workplace advice to managers and business owners. He recently published his first book, “Exiting underperforming Team Members – The Inside Scoop”. It is a practical response to the most pressing HR challenges, which can be found at

Disclaimer: The contents written do not constitute legal advice and does not cater for individual circumstances.   The information contained herein is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.

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