Can culture be designed?

With employee engagement at an all-time low, organizations have to reshape their culture.

by Therese Gedda


In the ‘70s, Southwest Airlines, the American low-cost airline, was founded with a bold mission: to democratize the airways at a time when only a third of Americans had ever been on a plane.

Herb Kelleher understood the importance of unifying people and made the decision to design a purpose-driven culture where people came first. With this human-driven approach, he prioritized people over profit.

This was not just a catchphrase: Southwest Airlines’ recruiting campaign was centered on the uniqueness of individuals, their skills, and aspirations. This encouraged employees to show their personalities at work, resulting in more natural and friendly interactions with their customers. His vision for a new type of company became a recipe for a thriving business with happy and engaged employees, high employee retention and a loyal customer base with people loving flying with them. This also led to a business with 44 consecutive years of profitability.

Successful individuals build successful companies. Engaged employees are naturally involved in and enthusiastic about their work. However, only 15 percent of employees are engaged globally, according to Gallup. There are no benefits with low engagement, and it’s a waste of potential. High engagement, however, drives both productivity and profit. And high engagement starts with a thriving culture.

The culture of a company is its core; it may seem like something integral and unshakeable, but it can be designed. Businesses today need to be culture-driven, not only to thrive but even to survive in their markets long-term. This is not new, but the digital revolution is pushing the Future of Work forward faster than ever before. Your high achievers, your most driven and engaged people, are more sought-after than ever and they have more choice than ever. To keep and attract them, a cultural transformation for most companies is needed.

After years of experience as an award-winning entrepreneur and keynote speaker, I founded 30minMBA with the vision of re-imagining workplace engagement through cultural design and actionable learning — which ultimately empowers people to reach their full potential. To us, engagement is made of four factors: people, processes, technology, and environment. Contrary to what one might think, culture is not motionless and can be shaped and moulded over time. Culture can be designed, but it takes effort, knowledge and the wisdom of experience to design it well.

Needless to say, it can be easier to design culture from scratch as startups are doing. This doesn’t imply that corporations or companies that have been on the market for years can’t rethink their culture: it will just take more effort, time and commitment. We believe that one of the best places to start is cultural design and actionable learning. We empower companies through cultural transformation; preparing them for the Future of Work. In addition to cultural consulting, the center of our delivery is an innovative mobile learning experience dedicated to supporting positive behavioral change. Your people develop their business skills ‘on the go’ and apply new knowledge to their work instantly. Mastery of skills and new concepts is part of what drives engagement and can lead to new opportunities.

Once you have a well-designed culture, recruiting on cultural fit is essential because an employee can be a follower in one company or high potential in another — depending on how engaged they are with the company’s values and mission. So, developing a process for hiring the right people for your company that shares your values and goals is at the heart of finding your right fit.

Working with culture is not the easiest thing to do: it’s about effort, human behavior, and soft skills. In the last few years, an increasing number of leaders have recognized that culture drives engagement, which can be a competitive edge for any company.

Acknowledging that people and culture are what matters most is the first step to re-imagining workplace engagement and fueling a healthy and sustainable environment that empowers what the Future of Work will be centered on: people.