Employee Engagement Leadership Motivation Organisational Culture Teamwork Values and Behaviours

Employee watching – guess the culture!

On a recent trip for a conference, I had lunch with one of my clients at a restaurant in the casino complex. We were discussing organisational culture as we entered the restaurant, so as a learning experience and a bit of fun I asked my client to “guess the culture”. Her observations were:

  • When we walked in the employees called out a greeting in their native language, but none of them actually made eye contact. It felt like a habit.
  • The waiter who forgot the drinks order seemed nervous when we reminded him. He kept looking quickly at an older employee (perhaps a manager) as if worried she would overhear.
  • The employees lacked warmth and friendliness, it was very mechanical.
  • When we were leaving there was a mix up on the bill and the employee was clearly anxious as he sorted it out for us. He explained the issue a number of times and seemed to be seeking our reassurance.

My client’s conclusions – it feels like it is a perfectionistic culture, with employees following the rules, very conventional, perhaps consequence driven. Fear of disclosing mistakes could lead to issues.

Walking through the complex we observed a cleaner sweeping the floor. She looked quickly around then swept the pile of dirt under the door of a restaurant that hadn’t yet opened for dinner. Nice surprise for the staff when they arrive! My clients observation – very “not my job”, probably lacking in initiative, innovation and creative problem solving.

I then told my client about a recent event with an international airline. They had an incident where a plane ran off the runway on landing – thankfully there were only a few minor injuries. The company painted out the logos on the aircraft with black paint (presumably so people wouldn’t know it was one of their aircraft) and that was creating quite a public relations stir – not in a good way! My clients read of the culture? Perfectionistic, blame culture, appearances are everything, probably wouldn’t admit mistakes meaning they perhaps are not learning from them.


Now, you can’t make an accurate assessment of an organisations culture from the actions of one or two employees, but for my client it was a good way to focus her attention on behaviour and culture – to tune her culture radar.

In contrast, I checked into a hotel recently and the man checking in next to me asked if he could borrow a charger for an iphone 5. The desk clerk checked out the back and said no, they didn’t have one. The clerk checking me in said “Sir, I have my charger in my car. What is your room number and I will drop it up to you as soon as I have finished this check in”.  What awesome service. And the culture? Focussed on the customer, empowered staff, go above and beyond, make it happen. Well done Mantra Hotel, Southbank, Melbourne.

Think about your own organisation, or others you know. Examine what employees do. What would you “guess the culture” to be…?

Rosalind Cardinal is the Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, a Hobart based consultancy, specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations.

Ros is a solutions and results oriented facilitator and coach, with a career in the Human Resources and Organisational Development field spanning more than 20 years.  Ros brings an energetic and proactive approach combined with a wealth of knowledge and experience. Her expertise spans leadership development, organisational culture, team building, change and transition management, organisational behaviour, employee engagement and motivation, strategic direction and management.

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