Coming to Terms with “Aspirational” Culture

I have been collaborating on a project that is attempting to help create/enhance the culture our organization wants to have by defining a core set of leadership competencies that span all levels of the organization.



In essence we are creating an “aspired to” state of the type of leadership we want at our organization in order to live our why.

I have actually had some great heart burn with this.  I understand that we need this “aspired to” state but it just hasn’t felt quite right – fluffy aspirational stuff is hard for me and I always worry that not enough people are involved.

That is, until I read this from gapingvoid:

There is no one ‘right’ kind of organizational culture, and none are perfect. That said, the benefit of having a well understood and socialized culture is that people know the boundaries of what is and isn’t okay.

This is spread and reinforced by culture carriers, people who live and breathe your culture because it works, but also because there is a well executed plan for Culture Design. The idea that you can, and must design the culture that you want to have.

It is OK to create the “aspired to” state, in fact it’s needed, what is truly important, at least to me, is how you go about creating that state.   The more open you can be during the process, offering the organization opportunities to co-create this “aspirational” state the better the chance you will actually move the dial in that direction.

And that is exactly what I am going to focus on.

How do you feel about defining “aspirational” cultural elements?  Would love to know in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Coming to Terms with “Aspirational” Culture

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  1. I agree with gapingvoid, defining aspirational elements of culture helps us know what is and isn’t ok. It sets expectations about how people should work together rather than making it up as they go along. As social media trends show, people seem to tend towards forming exclusive ‘safe havens’ to express our ideas and opinions. Having a ‘blueprint’ helps people/leaders to be mindful about being role models in the organization. That being said, I don’t think we should assess or evaluate based on those aspirational elements. Like attaining nirvana, attaining aspirational qualities is a continual work in progress.

    Diversity makes our strength and culture by its nature is held in a group. I feel tension between desire for culture to emerge organically and culture that is built or designed. There needs to be a balance for it to be authentic, and that is perhaps where your ‘heartburn’ comes from. I can understand the desire for competencies from the organisation’s point of view, but what is the intention for them?

    Balance between agreeing what is important to all of us who work together, but also freedom to get there in your own way. There is nothing more unmotivationg than when a person feels that their organization’s culture exists outside of them. It can’t feel authentic. One of the lessons I learned from a change project I worked on last year was to lead with values, those are the aspiration. They form a vision of how, as a group, we can ‘be’ together. Everyone will have different ways of getting there, but starting with those values means that, in spite of our differences, we have certain basic things in common.

    Aspirational values and stories of people at work in the organization who illustrate those values can help bring aspirations down to my level.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post!


    1. Thanks for this Val. Helping me reconcile. We rolled out the draft leadership attributes framework yesterday and I was surprised at how well it was received. I think because I so often want to be inclusive of everyone and make sure each person has a say, and has the opportunity to co-create solutions, that I forget that sometimes people just want to know what to do ; )

      I like your point on the assessment piece. Our vision is to create a learning environment that surrounds the leadership attributes so that people can learn/explore in their own way based on where they feel they need the most help or want to learn more.

      Your thoughts on leading with values is a good one. It’s making me think about how we can better tie this in. Also like the idea of trying to draw out the stories surrounding those values as a way to help the whole thing take root.


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