Curating and sustaining an agile and progressive culture


Michael Esau

Global HR Advisor

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For the last 3 years the word “culture” has probably had more column inches than in the last 100. The shift in how people worked through the pandemic and now, has put “culture” front and centre and many are asking – how should the culture of the organisation evolve?

So what is culture? For many – its how work is done within an organisation. It’s the custom and practice or as one person shared with me “its what happens when the grown ups are not looking!”. In all seriousness, culture is the essence of an organisation, how work is organised, how decisions are made and the levels of trust/openness. We observed through the pandemic, an evaluation by many as to whether the culture of the organisation they were a part of suited them and how they wished to work in the future – therefore the debate on hybrid working is proving to be quite polarised.

So, what can be done?

What needs to evolve culturally for organisations to be sustainable in the future? The external context is changing at a rate of knots. Consumerisation and Digital are changing how we live our lives outside of work – both emotionally and physically. As technology advancement continues, this evolution will continue– so how do organisations keep up? I think there needs to be a collection evaluation of what is different, what is changing, what does it mean for us and how do we do something about it?

I want to look at three areas in particular:

  • Individual Autonomy and Guardrails
  • Leadership Agility
  • Trust

Individual Autonomy and Guardrails

Looking at our experience outside of work – it is largely curated by ourselves. The decisions we make, how we get things done, connect, learn, and transact as a consumer – it is completely autonomous – therefore it is natural to carry that expectation into the workplace. Every organisation will have a strategy to execute – the question is how. To meet this expectation of autonomy – there needs to be clear guardrails established that enable individuals to take greater control of their data, performance, career development and progression.

So what do I mean with guardrails? A clear structure, a clear philosophy and framework that is transparent, understood and enables individuals to engage autonomously but not with reckless abandon, but within a defined framework that meets organisational requirements but is driven by the individual – I think this is going be crucial culturally if organisations are going to be able to attract and retain the best talent.

Leadership Agility

The leader has always been pivotal to the shaping and development of cultural norms. Demonstrating the right behaviours, modelling best practices and preserving the cultural standards. Helping them to adapt to what is changing in the workplace and the evolution of expectations, preferences, hybrid working is crucial, and leaders need to develop new skills and be more emotionally adaptive. I believe leaders will have a pivotal role in ensuring organisations are sustainable from a people perspective, the culture/climate/conditions are appealing to candidates/existing employees and people want to grow and stay in the organisation. How that is achieved will be multi-faceted and would be a strategic area of focus for me.



The bedrock of most organisations is a set of values that describe who the organisation is and its purpose. Amongst the most common values is integrity. This can mean different things, to many its following through on your commitment /promise. To enable integrity you need trust at all levels of the organisation. I believe cultures suffer when there isn’t that culture of transparency and when we are entering into an era where people want to be more empowered, that becomes a worrying problem. Trust is very fluid, its emotional and based on multiple factors, the absence of it can lead to issues with engagement, retention and business success.

These are only three areas of focus, I think it is clear that the external context is forcing organisations to take a step back and truly evaluate if the culture in their organisation is agile enough to attract and retain the best talent. Many questions are being posed and many answers still being debated, but what’s clear to me and many other commentators – the world of work is changing and those who create the culture, climate and experience that maximises the effort and contribution of their teams will be successful long term.

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