Leaders: Why Blue Is the Colour of Great Workplace Cultures

Fresh Insights on how to drive more cooperative, constructive and successful organizations in 2019

By Mona Mitchell, President & CEO

Diversity and Inclusion

Everyone’s talking about it: how frustrating it is to execute on goals and strategies within organizations these days. And the conversation always seems to circle back to culture.

Back in November, I was invited to present at ProjectTalks in Toronto at TELUS called The Impact of Culture on Project Performance – and I wanted to synthesize some key points to inspire, inform and guide your leadership thinking into the new year.  To watch the full video of my talk <click here>

Culture vs. climate

Every executive has a different definition of culture. But what does it really mean? Culture, after all,  is not “climate”-- which rather, are management decisions that set the tone for your organization, including your policies, structures and processes for employees follow. That’s not your culture.

Culture is really about the attitudes and behaviours every employee in your organization has to display on a day to day basis to be successful and fit in.

 Be clear about culture vs. climate:

  1. Organizational Climate: Management decisions set the tone

“How things are done around here; the policies, procedures, processes, technology, infrastructure.”

  1. Organizational Culture: The impact of those management decisions on people’s attitudes and behaviours

“What is expected around here; the attitudes and behaviours required to fit in, be successful and engaged” 

 To understand your culture better, ask yourself:

  • What are your organizations espoused values?
  • What are your employees’ beliefs?
  • What are the beliefs of your organization overall – and do they mesh with the beliefs of your employees?
  • Do all the people working for you connect with those values?
  • What attitudes and behaviours will be expected of each and every employee to be successful in your organization?

 Culture begins from the top

There is no question that culture begins with leadership. The beliefs and behaviours you hold and communicate will cascade down from above throughout your organization. In fact, culture is impacted by leaders.

But as leadership expert Jill Birch of Birchgrove signalled in her powerful keynote, The Future of Project Management Leadership, leadership today is in a sad state of disarray. Having interviewed scores of CEOs around the world, she passionately calls for a new language around the subject of leading – and for us all to begin to question not what and who, but rather how leadership really happens. “The Mandalas and Mullalas of the world represent a small crust of strong leaders,” she says. “Recent statistics show 50% of CEOs who are walked out the door are walked out for poor execution.”

Leaders can become more aware and drive more constructive cultures in a number of ways. Here are a few:

  • Employees: Look to your frontline workers to better understand your current culture – what’s working, what’s not working -- and the barriers that may exist preventing you from having a more productive, constructive and successful culture
  • Balance: Focus on both getting a) business done, and b) your people – the head and the heart of your organization. When you have both working for you, you can achieve balance and its amazing what you can accomplish
  • Communications: Pay attention to your communications channels and how you use them. Try to improve communication and transparency behind some of the decisions you are making. It will improve clarity, productivity– and even foster a sense of involvement and empowerment amongst your staff

 What colour is a successful culture?

Wouldn’t is be interesting and helpful to put a picture to culture? To see it visually – even assign a colour? What colour is a successful culture? We’ve worked that out – and the answer is blue.

In our 12 years of research at ACHIEVEBLUE, we have hit on highly effective tool called an “OCI Circumplex” which we use to benchmark organizations against other high-performing organizations. There are 921 business units and departments from global organization whose data goes into circumplex and we measure companies against data – breaking down their colours.

Three are three styles we represent as colours in the OCI – and each represents a set of collected behaviours that impact the organization in its ability to execute on its goals and the strategies. They are:

 Green:  Passive defensive culture

A high green score signals an organization where staff exhibit a high level of passive aggressive, defensive behaviour. They are not empowered to make decisions, They constantly have to seek approvals. They depend on their leaders and managers for everything. In a green culture, employees, come in, lay low, hold back on discretionary efforts and ideas – and generally feel  like they don’t have a voice. The higher the green, the less engaged people are in the organization. What does that do? It stifles innovation in your organization and will have a huge negative impact on productivity, and ultimately your success. In short, too much green can kill an organization.

Red: Aggressive defensive culture

Red in your organization signals aggressive, perfectionistic behaviours,  oppositional tendencies,  power, competitive spirit. Employees are expected to approach tasks in forceful ways to protect their status and security. Some perfectionistic behaviours are important to create good tension, productive discussions about issues - but too much  can stifle achievement-oriented organizations. Leaders drive red behaviours which can have an impact on the green.

Blue: Constructive culture

The higher the blue in the assessment results, the more constructive the culture is. That’s ultimately what leaders want and need in their organization.

In a blue culture, employees are encouraged to interact with others and approach tasks in ways that will help them meet their higher order satisfaction needs. Affiliative people feel they are accountable for the goals they have established with their leaders --- and they feel good about achieving them. Everyone has a  focus on excellence -- and on being accountable and responsive as part of the team for the organization.

 A predominately blue culture is:

  • Achievement Oriented
  • Accountable
  • Self-Actualizing
  • High Integrity
  • Collaborative
  • People support their colleagues

 While some red is beneficial, a dominance of blue signals you are at the helm of a productive, successful and constructive organization. And going forward into 2019 and beyond – that is where organizations will need to be to survive.

So as a leader heading your organization into 2019, take a temperature check on your current culture, give some thoughts to the “how’s” of your leadership. Now’s a great time to assess your risk and refocus your vision, taking a look at ways to remove some of the barriers and better empower your people to come together and build a “bluer” more constructive organization for everyone.

The Impact of Culture on Project Performance

Learn how your organization can achieve blue, connect with me at mmitchell@achieveblue.com

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