Shaping Virtuous Culture

“At its worst, culture can be a drag on productivity. At its best, it is an emotional energizer.” - Jon Katzenbach

I had fun writing the post CULTURE | Why It Concerns You published by the Business Relationship Management Institute where I co-lead a Community of Interest on Evolving Culture. This is a follow-up as I continue repeating the mantra Drive VALUE - Build RELATIONSHIPS - Evolve CULTURE, deeply probing CULTURE.

An organization’s CULTURE shapes it’s direction, growth and prosperity (remember “culture eats strategy for breakfast” Peter Drucker once uttered, and Mark Fields added “lunch and dinner” too). It is that invisible force that colors an organization’s behavior and decisions.

It can be dominantly Virtuous or Vicious. Building on Jon Katzenbach’s statement, at its worst (Vicious) culture is a huge drag not only on productivity, but organizational agility and innovation as well. A state of affairs that organizations can ill afford in this age of accelerated change fueled by all things digital.

So, I meditate on Culture seeking to unlock the totality of what influences it, and to simplify this understanding for the benefit of all. This is my hope, quest and passion.

I invite you to join me.

As I meditate on CULTURE, I think:

Culture is the self-sustaining pattern of behavior evoking emotional responses,

That are either positive (Virtuous) or negative (Vicious),

That shape human engagement and cooperation,

To achieve organizational purpose.

Next, I think:

I want to promote positive behaviors that evoke positive emotional responses,

And eliminate negative behaviors,

To create a Culture that results in high levels of human engagement and collaboration,

To achieve and sustain organizational purpose.

That this is the Emotional Culture Wharton business school professor Sigal Barsadedescribes in All You Need is Love ... At Work? Yes, it makes a difference. It matters having a significant impact on human engagement and relationships, hence productivity.


Once seeded and established, emotional Culture feeds on itself and spreads throughout the work environment given the proven phenomenon of emotional contagion.

That it creates a positive emotional vortex within the organization, otherwise known as a virtuous cycle (or vicious cycle if negative behaviors dominate).

Who seeds it? Well, anyone can, it can start with you and it will spread to those you directly interact with, internally with the People you are working with, and externally with Customers and stakeholders.

That Leadership needs to model it as they have the most impact in spreading it. People do as Leaders do! They can make and break virtuous cycles, and trigger vicious cycles.

So, I conclude I want to seed a VIRTUOUS CULTURE that optimizes human engagement and collaboration driving prosperity Today and Tomorrow.

That promoting a Culture of Trust is not enough. I also need to promote behaviors that facilitate human connection and collaboration via Relationships (Community) that organically form in pursuit of common Purpose (Meaning) that inspires.

That a VIRTUOUS CULTURE has three major drivers; TRUST, COMMUNITY, and MEANING.

That Meaning gives an inspiring Purpose, beyond the rational, that engages People at an emotional level, influencing rational actions individually, and collectively as a Community.

A Story – The Power of Meaning

“To tap into the human desire to participate in something meaningful sets free an almost miraculous power that compels us to go beyond the limits we perceive today” – Chris McGoff

From his book, The Primes, Chris McGoff, tells a story that clearly illustrates the Power of Meaning (although he refers to it as Ennoblement). It’s a fun and enlightening story. Enjoy!

“An Irish priest walks along a road where laborers are busy on a cool foggy morning. The first group of workers were grumbling and their workplace was disheveled. The priest asked the men what they were doing, and the foreman replied, “Me and the boys are making bricks, Father – fast as we can. Can’t really stop to talk, no disrespect, gotta mix this sand and rock to make bricks; a lot of bricks.” The priest bid them good work and continued to walk.

A little ways away, the priest came upon a second group. It looked like the same operation as the first group, but the job site was tidier and the men seemed more content and moved with a deeper sense of purpose that the first group. Again, the priest greeted them and again asked what they were doing. The foreman smiled and said, “Father, we’re helping to make walls. Right now we’re mixing sand and water and rocks to make bricks for that crew up there on the north side of the building. The priest blessed their work and continued down the road. As he walked, he began to hear joyous singing and laughing. As he rounded the bend, he came upon a third group of laborers. It looked like the same operation that the other two groups were doing. But the site was immaculate. The bricks were stacked squarely. The men worked in a collective rhythm. As the priest arrived, the men stopped and greeted him warmly. “Good morning men,” the priest said. “And what would you be doing today?” “Ah, Father, today is a true blessing for the Lord. Today we are building a house of God. When we are done, our village will come and worship here for generations. Right now we are helping to make walls. Our part of that is to mix the rock, sand, and water to make the bricks, a true labor of love it is.”

The first crew saw themselves only as brick makers. The second team saw their brick-making work as an integral part of making a wall – that greater context, creating a more meaningful perspective that results in their desire to make quality products. The third group was clearly enrolled in the ennobling vision and saw their work as integral to something wonderful. This ennoblement cause them to work and produce at the highest level.”


Inspired by MEANING (or Ennoblement), the three drivers blend together fueling the engine of a VIRTUOUS CULTURE that is self-propelling. TRUST is the foundation as COMMUNITY will not form without it.

That TRUST is a function of Warmth and Competence, with Warmth being the emotional connection promoting a sense of Safety.

Competence is the ability to do what one says they can do, that they are credible, that Others can rely on in the Community, hence without Competence, there cannot be Trust.

Once TRUST is established, People will naturally engage in pro-social behavior, as this is innate. It is how humans have survived as a species, as a group, as a COMMUNITY. But I also have to nurture it promoting behaviors such as social acceptance and inclusion to avoid tribalism and social friction fostering a sense of unified COMMUNITY.


Where VALUE (MEANING) ennobles People prompting them to organically mobilize around PARTNERSHIPS (COMMUNITY) built on TRUST.

That VALUE (MEANING) has to mean more than financial return. It has to convey a higher purpose that emotionally engages and inspires People, tapping into the best they have to offer. This is motivation on steroids! It is passionate intrinsic, self-motivation!

Perhaps the mantra needs to be VALUE – PARTNERSHIPS – TRUST.

Seeding, evolving, and ever optimizing a VIRTUOUS CULTURE.

Frank Wander

Frank Wander, a former CIO, is the founder and CEO of PeopleProductive (, and the author of Transforming IT Culture, How to Use Social Intelligence, Human Factors and Collaboration to Create an IT Department That Outperforms (Wiley, 2013). This unique book is the first operator’s manual for human infrastructure and will help you successfully transform your leadership style and organization.

PeopleProductive has taken that concept to the human side of the enterprise. We similarly help you find, measure and fix a broad spectrum of behavioral, emotional and enablement issues. For the first time, you can eliminate the inefficiency that holds highly productive people back and measurably increase productivity.

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