The Yin And Yang Of Organisational Culture

The Yin And Yang Of Organisational Culture

Every organisation works for a purpose, and the culture it intends to build flows from there.

It was six months into the pandemic, and we had transitioned and settled into remote working. I remember having a conversation with a veteran business leader. We were discussing one of our culture initiatives focused on accountability that we had run for three years. While the initial years were full of excitement, we could see little change in the desired direction. However, the results started coming in towards the middle of the third year, when all the focus was on business-critical problems, and the culture initiatives took a backseat.


As I shared my surprise with the leader, he mentioned that while the organisation had done what it could to bring accountability to the system, there was still a missing element. This element was difficult to manage because it was owned collectively by hundreds of different minds – the minds of people. The pandemic gave me my moment of discovering the yin and yang of organisational culture.


The Why and What of Culture


As an OD practitioner, I am often asked why we need to work on culture, and I can resonate with this. In today’s fast-paced world, with increasing competition in business and a focus on ROI, culture remains something elusive. It cannot be defined clearly, shaped at will, or be accurately measured using any ROI metrics.


We need to delve deeper into history, not of culture or HR but of corporates and their people. In the early days of the industrial revolution, the focus was on productivity. The value added by employees could be defined easily, and better performance could be rewarded with ease. The way to get the best employees was easy – to provide a better reward.


As we moved into the knowledge economy, the corporates faced their first major challenge: as skills became niche, it was difficult to identify the best employees. Productivity measures were not so straightforward now; an excellent employee not only did his work well but also helped other people and the company grow through collaboration, influence and power. This era brought an increased focus on HR as a function, as talent development, flexibility, learning opportunities, and internal career opportunities became critical elements of attracting and retaining talent, apart from rewards.


The last decade brought another set of changes in the landscape. As technology revolutionised the workplace, the traditional employeefocused practices that differentiated employers became easier to administer for all, and the gap between the best and good employers diminished. As many talent practices became hygiene factors, employees started looking increasingly at how they feel about their work. Multiple recent studies show that employees now look for a sense of purpose and belongingness when choosing a company or making a stay/leave decision. This is where culture comes in – culture becomes the way of doing work. It’s a set of common behaviours and shared expectations which define who belongs or does not belong in the company.


Shaping the Culture We Want – The Yin and Yang


As I mentioned in my story before, the missing element of people was what had hindered the successful creation of the desired culture. To take care of both elements from the start, HR managers and business leaders need to develop tools and embark on a process of discovery for successful culture transformation.


The Yin of Culture: Organisation


Every organisation works for a purpose, and the culture it intends to build flows from there. The below pyramid explains how organisations can bring workplace culture expectations into practice.



The journey of culture-building starts at the mission and vision level, which lies deep within the organisation and explains what it stands for. The mission and vision are closely defined according to the founder/promoter’s vision and the nature of the business.


Mission and vision set out the organisational values. In simple words, values are things an organisation considers non-negotiable. Values are largely people-driven and evolve based on what gets rewarded over a long period of time.


The third layer is culture. It is the shared set of expectations and processes that everyone in the organisation follows, and it remains at a habit level. The culture is closely linked to values. In a strong value-centred organisation, cultural elements that are not in line with values get phased out automatically over time, and those that align with the values get strengthened.


Behaviour is something that is at the observable layer of things. It is an individual-specific element. The behaviours which are in alignment with the deeper elements discussed above are the ones that thrive.


The Yang of Culture: People


When it comes to culture change or culture building, the paradox is that we cannot start directly at the deeper levels of mission, vision, values, or culture. If we are too focused on bringing a massive change, we run the risk of the change occurring only on paper while a parallel set of values and beliefs build up.


The only element we can control at the people level is behaviour. Since all the other elements belong to the collective, they can only be influenced over time. Behaviour, however, belongs to the individual. Therefore, the way to affect a culture change is to start at the top, where senior leaders articulate the behaviours that are in alignment with the desired culture and start role modelling them.


Employees are quick to notice the behaviours of the seniors and will generally start aligning their own behaviour with them. Leaders can facilitate this process by clearly sharing the behaviours they want to see and actively rewarding them. As the set of behaviours starts percolating down the order, it becomes a property of the collective.


Once a behaviour change has been created at the collective level and sustained for a long time, it becomes part of habits and rituals. This is the time when we can say the desired culture has been built.




For any organisation looking to make a cultural evolution, the discovery needs to be continuous, both in terms of what the organisation stands for and the behaviours leaders should role model. The key element of this change remains at the people level – the yin and yang of which are the leadership, who are seen as the organisation itself, and the employees. Both groups need to invest jointly to make culture change a success.


Nikita Panchal is a global leader with over 18 years of experience in organisation development, talent management, diversity & inclusion, and creating future-ready organisations. She has worked for TATA Asset Management and Motilal Oswal Securities and is currently associated with ACG Worldwide as Global Head – OD, Talent Management & Development, D&I.


0/3000 Free Article Left >Subscribe