Management Matters Management MattersManagement Matters
Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

Crafting Office Culture


Office culture affects everything from employee retention to productivity, and managers have an incredible opportunity to shape that culture. In most organizations, culture is based solely on what is sold, delivered or provided. But David Vik, former culture coach at online shoe retailer Zappos and author of The Culture Secret: How to Empower People and Companies No Matter What You Sell, which is set for release by Greenleaf Book Group in February 2013, argues that culture should be deliberately structured to align with the wants, needs and demands of both employees and customers.

Vik believes that crafting a unique culture should be priority No. 1 for organizations that want to attract and retain loyal employees and customers. While federal managers may not be as concerned with “customers” in the traditional sense as private sector managers, agency leaders nonetheless have parties they are tasked with serving.

One of the first challenges of managing organizational structure, Vik says, is the fact that the concept itself is “squooshy.” Several organizations could take identical steps toward creating a certain culture, but not all will realize the same effects. This is true in part because every organization already has an existing culture, which may be less than ideal. “So if you want to create your own unique culture that will help empower your employees and drive your company to success, transforming the culture you already have is a great place to start,” he says.

The first step to creating or transforming your organization’s culture is to develop a compelling vision. Employees need to know what they are doing, in the largest sense. They should know the organization’s ultimate goal and what managers expect to accomplish. Many managers, Vik says, fail to properly identify the what, skipping right to the how. But if employees have a good sense of the organization’s vision then they can help develop ways to achieve that vision, which means more innovations and less micromanaging.

Next, articulate the purpose of the organization, or the why. In the private sector, Vik has seen that if a company’s sole purpose is to make money, then employees won’t stand behind it for long. Passionate, committed employees must feel compelled by their organization’s purpose.

Vik has found that having or creating “wow factors” for an organization may be the single most important thing managers and executives can do. The focus must be on setting the organization apart and that can come from quality, value, price, service, delivery, or really anything; but it is the manager’s job to decide how the organization can best differentiate itself. This wow factor must be tangible, the organization must be able to point to concrete results or practices that are distinctive, otherwise it’s just lip service.

Finally, he points to organizational values as a crucial aspect of culture: “Values let the outside world know what you are all about.” Encouraging employee participation in developing these values can be extremely productive, as it can point out where the group thinks they are succeeding and what they value devoting additional effort toward. For example, if the organization currently struggles with communication but collectively wants to improve, naming “timely communication” as a value is likely to attract employees willing to contribute to that goal. Eventually, these values become self-fulfilling.

Culture should be the blueprint of what, why and how the organization operates, Vik says, and the more a manager can keep focus on its vision, purpose and values, the more likely that culture is to become part of its DNA, helping employees and the organization to reach full potential.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.