The dirty little secret from Australian culture change ‘gurus’

When I drive home from work I love to listen to the radio to either hear the day’s news or zone out to the many hits from the eighties, one can never can get too much of the early stuff from INXS.

I digress. One night, while driving home, I was listening to a business culture guru explaining how leaders need to develop a credible vision and build a cohort of people to follow them into the future of unbounded prosperity. Sage advice but nothing new there. He continued to explain the traits of leadership and the importance of building a supportive culture which rewards the values of the organisation. Great, really heading in the right direction now, the discussion and my driving.

Then the radio host asks the culture guru:

‘So, what do you do when you find some staff aren’t buying into the vision or culture?’


‘Well, you get rid of them.’

For context this response was not framed as easing people out of the workplace but firing them. Additionally, this is a line I have heard from a number of culture specialist/gurus here in Australia.

Hmmm…interesting concept. There is lots of literature about how to deal with cultural issues and the firing of staff if they don’t tow the line. So here’s the problem I see with this statement from the culture guru and the literature. I would propose it’s not that simple, particularly here in Australia, and particularly if there is a collective agreement, as there are usually clauses in them about staff performance. In my view the glib line; ‘get rid of them’ is unrealistic and self serving rhetoric from those that may not have been in the position of navigating through employment agreements correctly.

While the sentiment may be correct; that there may need to be a parting of the ways, making such statements as ‘get rid of them’ is dangerous and placing leaders in vulnerable positions. Some leaders may even begin to doubt themselves when confronted with the complex issue of staff performance and matching staff behavior to organisational values. This confusion in leaders may occur because the gurus are telling leaders to ‘get rid of them’ and when leaders try this it turns into a long, complex and sometimes very costly process, leaving leaders doubting themselves about why they couldn’t execute on what they are being told is a simple thing to do. I would put forward what should occur is leaders should try to develop a deep understanding of the systems working within and around their organization; then decide the best course of action for the circumstance leaders find themselves in.

So there’s the dirty little secret that few culture gurus tell people about, the answer to the question about addressing staff not buying into organisational culture is not using some tactic that might sound really cool and decisive, it’s not that simple. Culture change is really difficult I would think adopting a simplistic approach could make it harder to achieve a change.

Maybe I should just listen to more eighties tunes on the way home……………………