Creating Organizational Cultures That Thrive on Change

An excerpt from Haworth’sReturn to Work(place): Our Point of View”


Why Is Culture Important to Organizations?

In a world where the one constant is change, culture has become even more important to the success of organizations—especially when a pandemic challenges the global economy and the ways we work. Culture is an asset that should be managed and leveraged in support of strategy and goals, yet requires a nimbleness when crisis occurs. Top-performing organizations demonstrate healthy cultures that thrive on change—this healthy foundation is what enables them to adapt. When culture and business goals align, your workforce is best empowered to perform and innovate.

Culture Is How—and Why—We Behave

Evidence from a McKinsey Organizational Health Index survey with over 1,000 organizations—encompassing more than three million individuals—reveals that culture correlates with performance.1

“Culture starts with what people do and how they do it. In any industry, what people do may not differ dramatically, but high-performing organizations distinguish themselves in how they do it. This cumulative effect of what is done and how it is done ultimately determines an organization’s performance.”

What McKinsey emphasizes is that culture correlates to people’s behaviors within an organization. It’s also how they perform these behaviors, driven by their beliefs or values.

Work from Anywhere: The Role of Culture

Many business leaders are concerned that extensive remote work will eventually impact the well-being of their employees and weaken organizational culture. In spite of perceived productivity increases, remote work has created a potential cost in long-term productivity, corporate culture, and innovation and creativity. Office workers feel disconnected from their organization, their personal well-being has suffered, and employees feel that they’ve had fewer opportunities to learn, especially through informal mentoring.3

An organization’s success is rooted in how well people work together to accomplish goals, coordinating collaborative efforts with individual work. We know that there will be a mix of in-office and remote work options to maximize employee and organizational performance. Both collaboration and individual focus work are essential ingredients to employee productivity and organizational innovation.4 The office will remain the epicenter in a work-from-anywhere ecosystem that includes office, home, and third places. An aligned culture unifies and motivates a workforce, represents the employee and customer experience, and reflects an organization’s brand. It leverages the most valuable asset—people—and how the workforce aligns with real estate space for optimal performance. 

Aligning Culture and Space

Once we understand the organization’s preferred culture type, we can create spaces to align and help achieve business goals. Workspace design in the form of common areas, meeting spaces, and individual workspaces are artifacts that can either help or hinder a company’s effectiveness. Because architecture and design are intertwined with culture, the Competing Value Framework’s categories are helpful as a foundation from which to create appropriate workspaces. For each of the four culture types defined by the Competing Values Framework, see how the design implications are applied in space designs that incorporate the culture’s unique attributes.

Collaborate Culture

The primary purpose of a collaborative culture is to generate knowledge and nurture a strong community. The constituents of a collaborative culture often act as counselors and mentors while all have a strong sense of belonging and team orientation. As an organization with a drive for learning, access to coworkers is essential. 

Compete Culture

A competitive culture’s purpose is to generate profits and do it faster than competitors in the market. These cultures are made up of highly competitive dealmakers judged on short-term performance. For these workers, getting the most current, complete, and correct information from external sources is essential.

Control Culture

Control culture is driven to improve efficiency and quality with a focus on doing things right. These cultures are made up of problem solvers, engineers, and professionals. The data-driven decision-making that these teams need to accomplish is an important part of dependable delivery, smooth scheduling, and cost management. To achieve their purpose, they put systems and structures in place to adhere to their organization’s or industry’s standards. Control cultures prefer to use charts/graphs to track their progress and help to identify any errors or opportunities for improvements.

Create Culture

A Create culture’s purpose is to generate innovation and growth. To do so, create cultures are stocked with visionaries, entrepreneurs, artists, and designers. Their practice is characterized by an open system that is adaptable and widely disseminates external inputs and influences. The brainstorming and conceptual design development that these teams need to do are an important part of transforming an idea to an innovative product or service.

  1. McKinsey & Company, 2018  2. McKinsey & Company, 2018   3. Cushman & Wakefield, 2020.  4. Johnson and Scott, 2017