Mark Loftus writing for the FT 125, the Financial Times’ senior leadership community.


The modern workplace is undergoing a cultural revolution, and it’s not just the millennial workforce driving it. Common-sense tells us everybody is looking for positive and inspiring workplaces that engage them personally as well as professionally. And the negative impact of toxic culture is familiar to us all. Research from Deloitte backs up our intuitions: getting culture right is shown time and again to directly impact employee engagement, retention, dedication and satisfaction.

Yet if creating a vibrant, healthy culture is such an obvious win-win for both sides, why is it so difficult to do in reality? Culture is a story about character: how your character shapes your relationships, and how the network of these relationships define culture. In truth, the culture of your organisation is a legacy shaped by the character of the founders, maybe many years ago. Yet as senior leaders, if you are not actively re-modelling the culture, who is?

Our CharacterScope data shows that many businesses have been over-selecting for a limited few types of leader. In particular, the focus on an executional approach has been embedded into senior executive selection criteria. If you believe that hitting quarterly metrics is the overriding imperative then your behaviour will risk treating people as a means to these quarterly ends. 

By contrast, the transformational character is under-represented at the senior level. These are the leaders who are adept at bringing hearts and minds with them, at helping people through the uncertainties and ambiguities of digital disruption, who sweat the detail of soft-skills. They understand and treasure difference and diversity, and yet share with the executional leader a similar unrelenting drive to achieve extraordinary things – through and with their people rather than at their expense.

The difficulty lies in businesses realising this. Overhauling an ingrained workplace culture isn’t an overnight process. It can often take time for employers and employees to bring about the changes. But putting the wheels in motion is perhaps just as important as the change itself. And both business and workforce will reap the benefits.