Cultural Evolution

As well as continuing with my coaching practice Brompton Associates, I recently joined a global boutique consultancy called Parrhesian.

One of the two founding members, Arno Ruskus, was trained by Peter Senge and Ken Wilber and has worked with Fred Kofman and Carolyn Taylor (some of the greatest current thought leaders in Organisational Culture Transformation).

So I was excited to be partnering with Parrhesian to learn more about the art of working with companies to help evolve their cultures for future competitive advantage.

I met Arno and his founding partner, Hidde Van der Pol, at a conference in Sweden in 2014. The conference was the bi-annual conference for Barrett Values Centre, the organisation set up by my friend Richard Barrett to help people measure the cultural values of any group of people (Organisations, Schools, Leadership Teams and to some extent whole societies).

Since joining Parrhesian I’ve learnt some key points about how you go about evolving culture.

Parrhesian work simultaneously on three pillars that hold up your current culture (and therefore can change to help evolve your culture). They are:

1) Mindsets and behaviour (of the leaders),

2) Symbolism

3) Systems


Mindsets and Behaviour

Cultures are created by the leaders of an organisation. As their shadows reach far into the organisation, what they value and how they behave is modeled by those further down the hierarchy within the organisation.

We all have mirror neurons in our brains that help us copy other humans. This is how we learn to speak our language with the accent of the people we learn from. This is how we learn to walk as well as what is required of us to be loved and cared for when we are young. These same mirror neurons allow us to assimilate into a new culture at work by mimicking the behavior of those around us. That is why we say ‘they’ve gone native’ of someone who joins an organisation from a different culture and after 6 months, has unconsciously begun to behave in the same way as those in their new organisation.

Often leaders are not conscious of the behaviours, values and beliefs that they portray to their organisation. This means that not all of the ‘stuff’ they are putting into the culture is useful or effective.

We’re often asked by leaders to help create more innovation or a more commercially focused organisation. What they learn by working with Parrhesian, is how their own behavior, values and beliefs are contributing to their staff NOT being innovative or commercially focused!



When we first begin working with an organisation, we visit their work sites and walk around to pick up any immediate symbols that reflect their culture.

An example of symbolism would be a display of certificates and trophies in a glass cabinet in reception, showing that the culture values competition and winning.

Another example of symbolism would be that the CEO gets the biggest office on the top floor with the best view. This would show that the culture is potentially quite hierarchical. With a culture that give greater value to those higher up the organisation in terms of role, there is a danger that new ideas, or challenges to the old ways from staff at lower levels, never reaches the ears of those in charge.

Cultures that value transparency and honesty may have no enclosed offices, but open plan and glass walled offices.

Cultures that value discretion and confidentiality (like many high street law firms where clients actually come to the office for private matters) may have walled offices with heavy doors, carpets and an air of silence about them.

When we enter a workplace there are so many things that give you symbols of what is valued as well as ways in which people work. The overall feel (vibe) of a working environment also gives us a sense of the energetic field that is mostly playing out.



This is the third area that Parrhesian addresses, and normally co-creatively with the leaders of the organisation we are working with. Systems are often the most challenging category to transform. They are created through an accumulation of decisions, many of which are outdated as they were taken further back in the past.

Systems are the backbone of an organisation, they include all the ways the organisation is measuring itself. It’s the total dashboard between processes measured in HR, IT, Commercial, Production, Finance and Administration, and all the subsystems and procedures for getting what you need to function in your role.

When Parrhesian embarks on a cultural evolution, one of the first things that are addressed is to help create awareness of the fact that these 3 categories need to be worked on. Often, we find misalignment that, inadvertently leads to the phenomena of a “schizophrenic organisation”. Often a result of different messages that over time have been sent into the 3 respective categories and that under the surface have created a misfit that is experienced as a “we are doing everything we should do, but still something is not right” – kind of feeling.  Parrhesian diagnoses the culture from these 3 categories in order to understand to what extend they are aligned or not, and then works on the gaps to co-create one rock solid, tailored culture.


End Results

Very often it’s a relief for leadership teams to have clarity over what culture is, how it is created, how it can be aligned for high productivity and how it can be measured so that it becomes an asset to the organisation not a headache!

Would you like to find out more about cultural evolution? Get in touch

Photo credit: Teddy Kelley via Unsplash