Our Thinking


3 legged stool

A healthy, high-performing workplace is a 3-legged stool.

As I work within an increasingly wide range of workplace environments, from corporates to service providers to retailers, I’m aware that many business leaders have genuinely good intentions when it comes to creating a supportive work environment for employees.  They talk of leading a ‘good culture’ in which their people work amicably together, punctuated with regular social occasions and team meetings. But then they tell me ‘But I don’t know if the culture contributes much to our bottom line?’

The concise answer to this is that a workplace culture is only part of the journey to a genuinely high-performing, holistically healthy business environment where both employees, leaders and productivity flourish. This is best analogised as a three-legged stool.

First your business needs to define your identity. What is it that you do or produce, as a function of your organised skill sets, talent team, resources, products, materials, distribution network? This creates your baseline. Providing you meet the market standards, you join the ranks of other insurance companies, banks, car dealerships, design shops, specialist food organic food retailers or whatever your niche. But achieving parity isn’t going to help create a competitive edge; an aspect of your operations that makes you a preferred brand among customers. Or even a favourite employer in the category. This is only one of the legs on your stool.

The second leg adds crucial impetus. This is the critical purpose that drives every tier of your operation to deliver whatever it is you do. Your purpose is an internal cause held dear by every employee regardless of role or seniority. It’s not your external market positioning – although it connects with this. Your internal critical purpose provides the emotional impetus for each individual to come to work pumped with enthusiasm and focus, in the knowledge that this is the positive impact their work has on your customers’ lives – and possibly wider into the communities that surround your business and various stakeholders.

Synergistically matched with deep understanding of what your employees want to achieve as people, the right critical purpose leads to a definitive, tangible point of difference that works from inside your business. It aligns every tier of your organisation to deliver on this.

So now your stool has two legs. But it’s still not going to function effectively as a stool. 

The third leg – the one that contributes stability and balance – is culture. An enduring workplace culture is not something that management hands down. Nor is it part of your business’s intellectual property or assets. Your workplace culture arrives when your team get to work, and leaves with them at the end of the day. Fundamentally, it’s the experiential behaviour and tonality that immerses your team whilst they’re at work, in your care.

Workplace culture is a combination of cognitive culture, which outlines the intellectual and behavioural expectations of your team, and emotional culture which is summed up by body language, unspoken communication, proactivity and intentional focus on abstracts like positivity, kindness, compassion and sharing. Whilst the combination of culture may sound complex, studies show that the right blend of cognitive and emotional culture has a direct bearing on employee happiness and engagement, business productivity and decision-making.  Your workplace culture can be designed but then it must be handed over to your team to own. Culture can be taught, but to be effective and sustained, it must be embodied. The right workplace culture wraps around your entire team, regardless of role, personality, seniority or even ambition. It’s evident in every interaction. And it plays a crucial balancing role alongside the other two legs to ensure your business retains its edge as both an employer and one that delivers with a discernible edge to customers.

Tickled Pink works with business leaders, HR teams and employees to discover your critical purpose, then to align this with a vibrant, authentic employee-owned culture.  If you’d like to hear more, call me on 021 752 517.

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