Creating a Culture of Excellence

When creating and growing a business, leaders typically focus most on acquiring and organising the skills, tools and other key resources required to achieve objectives and deliver results. The priority is often the tangible and visible components of structures, facilities, technology, infrastructure, partners/suppliers, customers, products and services. The organisation’s most precious resource meanwhile, its people, are not always given full consideration, and in extreme cases people are considered as commodities to be exploited and controlled for maximum short-term returns.

Culture of excellence

Enlightened leaders, however, consider people and culture to be their most important concern, not just because it’s a principled approach and the right thing to do, but because engaged and empowered people are a key source of competitive advantage. Therefore, these leaders invest as much time in planning and creating a sustainable culture of excellence from the beginning. These are leaders who recognize that their “prime responsibility is to create and manage culture, or the culture will manage them, and they won’t even know the extent to which this is happening” (Edgar Schein).

Culture can be simply described as the prevailing behaviours in an organisation, and behaviours give an indication of what is truly valued. Senior leaders, whilst small in number, influence culture the most: they set the tone and are role models. Furthermore, they can focus on creating the right culture by embedding the right principles – they can be proactive with culture, and recognise that we are the result of our choices. So how can they do this? Here are a few examples…

Leadership Principles. The first step a leader must take in leading culture is a personal “inside-out” journey. Without understanding what the principles mean personally, e.g. respect for every individual, focus on process, seek perfection, constancy of purpose, it becomes impossible to lead the development of a principle-based culture. Whilst practices are based on the “what” and “how”, principles provide the “why” which is essential for sustainable change.

Envisioned Future. A shared, compelling and positive vision of the future should be inspiring for employees and provide a “North Star” and a common purpose which is bigger than any individual. If this is underpinned by a shared set of values (aligning personal values with business values) and desired behaviours we can start to make work meaningful and align the team, creating a “burning passion” inside people. The organisation can then recruit, develop and reward people based on these values, not just skills and capability.

Strategy Development and Deployment. Strategic objectives are required to drive the organisation towards its vision and provide focus and direction over the medium term. These objectives need to be deployed throughout the organisation in a way that creates ownership for initiatives and results at all levels – defining not just the ‘what’ but the ‘how’.

Systems and Processes. The right process delivers the right results. For sustainable excellence, systems and processes should be established which embed the principles and “make it easy to do the right thing, and difficult to do the wrong thing” in a consistent and repeatable manner. This will include a CI framework with performance metrics, visual management methods and standard daily, weekly and monthly management reviews driving appropriate accountability. In this environment, problems become visible and opportunities for improvement rather than mistakes to hide or defend.

culture of Excellence diagram

Leading culture is about reaching deep inside of people, at an emotional level, to engage with their hearts and souls, not just their heads or their hands.  When people feel empowered and safe (in the widest sense, not just physically but emotionally and intellectually) and that they truly belong, then remarkable things happen.

So how can Catalyst help?

Catalyst can support your culture change and business transformation in multiple ways, for example:

Culture Assessments: We can conduct a comprehensive assessment your current state culture and behaviours at all levels against established excellence models and summarise your key strengths and opportunities for improvement. We can then work with your leadership team to identify priorities and actions required to positively change your culture in line with your vision and strategy.

Strategy Development/Deployment: We can help you establish a management process that aligns, both vertically and horizontally, your organisation’s functions and activities with your strategic objectives. Using collaborative approaches we establish a ‘line of sight’ between individual objectives and the strategic priorities, ensuring all contributions combine to enable successful achievement of strategy.

CI System Development: We can provide a tailored programme of activities and services including leadership development, PMO/governance design and formation, project selection and communication strategy and staff skills assessments and training to build improvement capability.

Leadership Development and Coaching: We can deliver bespoke workshops with leadership groups and 1-1 coaching to build competence and capability and help develop role model leaders who exemplify the principles and vision you are seeking to create.

Accelerating Transformational Change: In the face of increased volatility and uncertainty, we can help you maximise the opportunity for effective and rapid organisational change/transformation. This is typically achieved by assessing the organisation’s readiness for change, supporting leadership in navigating through the challenges of change and transformation, and coaching and guiding leadership in their role and the specific behaviours required to model and accelerate the change, including articulating and reinforcing the ‘why’.

Best Practice Visits: We can facilitate best practice visits and tours to ‘experience excellence’ with world-leading host companies. These include ‘go look see’ visits to operational areas and the opportunity to interact freely with leaders and associates at all levels in the organisation, and to learn and be inspired by the ‘art of the possible’.

E-mail us at to schedule a conversation with one of our consulting team or to arrange a visit to your site for a diagnostic/review meeting.