There’s no escaping it – culture is a huge iceberg looming in every organisation’s path. It’s unavoidable and incredibly daunting, but understanding and navigating it is crucial to driving success. The iceberg model of culture provides a great visualisation of the different layers that make up the culture in an organisation.
In 1976, Edward T. Hall developed the Cultural Iceberg model to explain that organisation culture was similar to an iceberg. Regarding icebergs, only 10% of them are visible above the surface, while 90% lie below in the water.
The iceberg model of culture is similar – only 10% of culture is visible. In comparison, 90% lies hidden beneath the surface and has a much more significant impact on organisational behaviour and attitudes.
In this blog post, we’ll explore each layer in detail and discuss how you can use this knowledge to steer your business in the right direction.
How Can Organisational Culture Drive Success?
To determine how culture can drive success, first, let’s look at what precisely organisational culture is.
What is Organisational culture?
Organisational culture refers to shared beliefs, values, and behaviours that influence how people think, feel, and act in an organisation. It is the personality of a company and affects every aspect of it – from customer service to employee engagement. A strong organisational culture can be a powerful driver of success.
However, a poorly managed culture can have the opposite effect – negatively impacting productivity and morale and ultimately leading to failure.
How Can Organisational Culture Drive success?
Organisational culture affects every aspect of an organisation, from how employees interact to how customers are treated. When it is strong and well-defined, it can lead to great success. A thriving organisational culture can increase employee engagement, boost morale and productivity, foster collaboration and innovation, inspire better customer service and create a competitive advantage.
It helps attract top talent, keep employees motivated and engaged, develop shared purpose and values, strengthen customer relationships, and boost performance.
This is why it’s so important to understand the Iceberg Model of Culture and use it to drive success in your organisation.
What is the Iceberg Model of Culture, And How Does It Work?
The iceberg model of culture was developed by Edward T. Hall in 1976. It is a valuable framework for understanding and measuring organisational culture and how well its values are aligned with its business objectives.
Like an iceberg, most of a company’s culture is hidden beneath the surface. Similar to how up to 90% of an iceberg is hidden below the water.
It helps organisations identify which elements need to be addressed to achieve their desired outcome and rectify any performance issues. By understanding the iceberg model of culture, organisations can create a strong foundation for successful cultural change.
It divides culture into two distinct layers – surface culture and deep culture – each with its unique characteristics and impact on an organisation.
Surface culture is the easy-to-observe layer consisting of explicit behaviours, language, dress codes, and traditions. It is visible and can be measured. In contrast, deep culture lies below the surface. It contains hidden and intangible elements like core values, beliefs, priorities, attitudes and assumptions you can’t always see, ultimately defining an organisation’s character and people.
By understanding both layers, organisations are better equipped to create an environment that supports their goals and mission.
“Success is like an iceberg. Nobody sees the work that comprises it.” ― Jeffrey Fry
Layers of the Iceberg Model of Culture
Now let’s put on our scuba suits! It’s time to take a deep dive to explore the layers of the iceberg model of culture. We’ll also look at how culture and values can help you to accomplish your company’s goals.
The surface culture layer (also referred to as external culture) is visible and measurable. It includes formal internal communications, rules and policies determined by management, working hours, dress codes, physical workspaces and overall environment. It is crucial for creating a sense of order. Still, it can be restrictive and lead to disengagement if not managed correctly.
Characteristics of Surface Culture
Surface culture is:
● Learned explicitly: through policies, rules, and procedures communicated through official channels such as HR documents, memos and emails.
● Visible: through dress codes, physical workspaces, office furniture and equipment, decorations etc.
● Conscious: attitudes, behaviours, values and beliefs management, as well as attitudes and behaviour towards each other. It is influenced by the organisation’s core values, mission and history.
● Easily changeable: If the leadership team is willing to make an effort and invest time, energy and resources into creating a culture that aligns with the organisation’s goals.
● Objective knowledge can be measured through surveys, interviews and focus groups.
Now that we know the characteristics of surface culture, let’s take a closer look at its components:
1. Employee Benefits And Perks
Does your organisation provide your employees with tangible benefits such as flexible work schedules, remote working or extra vacation time? Do you offer any programs to improve employee well-being?
All these things are important in attracting and retaining employees. However, these perks and benefits should be thoughtfully structured to fit the company’s core values and objectives and help to foster a culture that makes employees feel supported and appreciated.
A recent study showed that 48% of employees consider perks such as snacks when switching jobs.
Tip: Keep your employee benefits up-to-date and relevant to the culture you’re trying to create and offer meaningful perks and employee benefits.
2. Dress Code
What is the dress code in your organisation? Do your employees dress formally or casually in jeans and a t-shirt? Or do you require a strict uniform? Does your dress code reflect the company’s values and mission, or is it outdated or overly restrictive?
While it is true that the way employees dress and their appearance can have a significant effect on the perception of the organisation, it’s important to be conscious of not enforcing a dress code that is too rigid or restrictive.
Employees should feel comfortable in their work environment, and a dress code that reflects your organisation’s culture can help to create this. Studies indicate that employees are up to 61% more productive with a relaxed dress code.
A relaxed dress code could be seen as an indicator of trust and respect for employees. But, for best results, set some rules and boundaries regarding dress code, especially customer-facing roles that portray your brand.
Tip: Keep the dress code in tune with the company’s mission and values. It should be flexible enough to allow employees to express their personalities while conveying professionalism.
3. Workplace Environment
What does your workplace look like? Is it bright and inviting with comfortable seating areas and décor, or is it bland and sterile? Does the environment encourage collaboration and creativity? How do employees interact with each other within the workspace?
The physical workspace should reflect the company’s values and objectives. It should create an environment where employees are productive, creative and happy. Investing in comfortable furniture, providing snacks or offering flexible working hours can also help to foster a positive workplace culture.
Tip: Consider what kind of environment you want for your organisation. Invest in furniture and décor that reflect the company’s values, make sure you have enough space for collaboration and allow employees to move around freely.
Does your organisation have the right technology, tools and software to operate efficiently? Do you use technology to foster collaboration and innovation?
Today’s businesses rely heavily on technology to help them stay competitive and successful. It is one of the most essential tools to help foster a positive workplace culture. Technology should be used to make it easier for employees to communicate, collaborate and access information quickly and efficiently.
Having the right technologies in place will help to increase productivity and efficiency while reducing costs. However, it is also essential to stay up to date with the latest tools and technologies available to improve workflows and processes where possible.
Tip: Make sure you have the right technology to support your company objectives and provide employees with the tools they need to succeed. Research the latest tools and technologies available and invest in them to help improve workflows, enhance collaboration, reduce costs, and increase efficiency and productivity.
5. Workplace Language
Is there an informal, laid-back attitude, or is your office a strictly professional environment? How do employees communicate with each other? What messaging do you use, and how does your organisation communicate with the outside world?
Language matters in the workplace and can significantly create a positive and inclusive workplace culture. Therefore, businesses should be mindful of the language they use.
It should foster collaboration and build relationships while also conveying professionalism and respect. Encouraging open dialogue and avoiding jargon or negative language can help to create an environment where employees feel comfortable expressing themselves without fear of judgement or criticism.
This includes avoiding slang, using gender-neutral terms when speaking about staff or customers, and offering alternatives to phrases that could potentially sound offensive.
Choosing the right words, tone and messaging is important to maintain a strong organisational culture.
Tip: Have a clear understanding of the language used in your workplace and ensure that it is conducive to creating a positive and inclusive culture. Also, create a set of written guidelines about what is considered acceptable language for everyone in the organisation and how it should be used.
6. Recognition and Rewards
Does your organisation offer any recognition and rewards to employees?
Tangible recognition of performance, effort and contribution is key to building a positive workplace culture and significantly impacts employees’ experience. They help to develop a perception of fairness and equality while also providing an incentive to continue working hard.
Recognition should be given in various forms and doesn’t have to be monetary. It can include verbal praise, bonuses and incentives, awards or trophies, and public acknowledgement. This helps to create a sense of motivation and reward for employees who go the extra mile.
Ensuring that recognition is given to employees at all levels, regardless of their position or seniority, reinforces meaningful and valuable work. This helps to ensure that everyone feels appreciated for the work they do. It is also important to reward both teams and individual contributors.
Showing appreciation for employees’ efforts can go a long way to motivate them to do their best work while also fostering team spirit. For example, a survey found that 37% of respondents said they would produce better work more often if they received personal recognition.
Tip: Acknowledge employees’ work and contributions formally and informally. Ensure that recognition is given consistently, fairly and in various forms to avoid creating feelings of inequality or unfairness.
Now that we know about surface culture, let’s dive down further to explore deep culture.
Luckily, I brought an extra oxygen tank!
The deep culture layer (also known as internal culture) is the unseen, underlying values and beliefs that shape an organisation. This layer is often the hardest to access because it’s usually hidden from view or difficult for people to articulate.
It includes leadership attitude, attitudes towards customers, communication styles, ways of working and decision-making processes. In addition, deep culture shapes how employees interact and view their work, the organisation and its values.
Deep culture isn’t formed overnight; it is built over time and evolves with each new employee joining the organisation. It is often shaped by leadership behaviours and organisational structures, meaning it can be difficult to change once established.
Leaders must be aware of how deep, and surface levels interact and impact each other to ensure that the iceberg culture model works for the organisation. They must also create a positive, supportive cultural environment where employees can thrive, feel valued, and are respected and recognised.
Characteristics of Deep Culture
Deep culture is:
● Learned implicitly: holds and reinforces beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviours influenced by leadership.
● Unconscious: determines how people act and behave and includes values, beliefs and rituals that are explicitly expressed within the workplace
● Difficult To change: deep culture is often complicated to change once established, even with a conscious effort from leadership.
● Subjective knowledge: It can be challenging to access as it’s often hidden from view or difficult for people to articulate.
Now, let’s look at some deep culture attributes that drive an organisation’s success.
Do your employees have any authority when it comes to decision-making? Are they able to act independently, or do they need approval from higher-ups first? Do they feel their opinion matters when it comes to decisions?
Authority and autonomy play a role in how an organisation operates. Many successful companies let their employees be involved in decision-making. It creates a strong sense of ownership and empowers employees to make an impact while improving organisational culture.
Tip: Provide your employees with the right tools, support and empowerment to make decisions and be accountable for the results.
2. Health and well-being
Do you encourage your employees to be health-conscious and care for their well-being? Are there any initiatives in place to support a healthy lifestyle?
Your employees’ health and well-being are essential elements that you need to consider. After all, research has determined that healthier and happier employees are more productive by up to 20%, which leads to increased productivity, profits and reduces churn rates and paid sick leave.
After the pandemic, organisations see how crucial it is to have a comprehensive health and well-being strategy and provide support for physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being.
Tip: Create a comprehensive strategy that includes mental, physical, and emotional health initiatives such as adding healthy snacks, providing standing desks, setting up a gym, offering yoga and meditation services, and providing guidance and support to employees.
3. Purpose and meaningful work
Do your employees understand the organisation’s values and goals? Do employees feel a sense of alignment with the company’s goals? Do they feel like they are doing meaningful work?
Purpose and meaning are essential for success and help create a strong connection between the organisation and its employees. Employees should clearly understand the company’s values, mission, and goals – what it stands for and why their work is important.
Having a purpose while doing a job is now at an all-time high as more millennials and Generation Z employees enter the workplace. By helping them understand how their work aligns with the organisation’s mission and vision, employees can feel great satisfaction from their job, boosting engagement, motivation and productivity. According to McKinsey, employees improve their performance by 33% if they find their work meaningful.
Tip: Work closely with your employees to ensure that they understand the organisation’s values, goals and mission. Give them opportunities to gain clarity on how their work aligns with the company’s vision and provide positive reinforcement when they do meaningful work.
How is your communication with your employees? Is it open, transparent and frequent? Do you keep them in the loop? Are you effectively communicating with your team members across all channels?
Open, transparent communication with employees is key to a thriving organisational culture. Effective communication helps to keep everyone informed about the organisation’s mission and objectives and fosters a positive work environment that encourages collaboration and growth.
Employees should feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their opinions to foster effective communication. So leaders must create an environment of trust and respect between all team members.
Tip: Implement tools to facilitate open communication with your employees on all topics, such as performance, goals, feedback, roadblocks, challenges etc. Use two-way communication channels such as internal forums, team chats and regular meetings to keep everyone in the loop.
5. Engagement of Employees
Do your employees feel engaged and connected with the organisation? Are they motivated to do their best work? Do you understand what makes them tick?
Organisations should understand their employees by learning about their needs, values and motivations. When these needs and values are met, it can create a positive workplace culture that is both productive and empowering.
Engaged employees are more productive, loyal, and committed to the organisation’s success and will feel a strong connection to the organisation and its mission. They will be passionate, enthusiastic and motivated to come to work each day.
Engaged employees are more likely to contribute valuable ideas and insights, take the initiative, think outside the box, and go above and beyond expectations.
Tip: Make sure job roles are challenging and meaningful, create opportunities for growth within the organisation, encourage employees to take the initiative, provide recognition and rewards when appropriate, and set realistic goals and expectations.
6. Learning and development
Do you have an emphasis on learning and development? Are there opportunities for growth for your employees?
In a constantly changing business landscape, organisations should emphasise learning and development to ensure that employees can stay up-to-date with current trends and practices and acquire new skills. In addition, investing in employee development allows them to become better team members and help the organisation grow.
If you promote from within, employees are less likely to leave for a competitor to progress their careers due to limited opportunities.
Enable employees to continuously learn and improve their skill set by offering training programs, seminars, and workshops. Also, provide them with the resources they need for self-development, such as ebooks, online courses and articles.
Tip: Invest in employee development, create learning opportunities and provide access to resources to help employees reach their full potential.
The iceberg model of culture is a powerful tool for understanding and leveraging the impact of culture and values on organisations.
Understanding the surface and deep layers and how they impact each other drives success in an organisation by creating a strong and unified culture that helps to support your vision and values.
So, if you want your iceberg model to stay afloat, remember that surface culture is just the tip of the iceberg! There’s so much more beneath the surface, and it’s your job to make sure all of those elements are in harmony.
Remember that your organisation’s culture directly influences your success and growth. So be sure to cultivate a strong, unified culture that fosters productivity and innovation.
Pay attention to health and well-being, purpose and meaning, communication, employee engagement, and learning and development for a healthy iceberg model of culture!
Do you want to create an outstanding culture in your workplace that benefits your organisation and employees while giving you an edge over your competitors? Contact us today to learn more about our Cultural Development program that inspires leaders and teams to reach their full potential.
We are a leadership development and performance organisation. We encourage leaders to realise their full potential, discover their calling, and make a real difference in the world. With us, you’ll find a truly invested team that offers genuine care and support while telling it like it is. We are deeply committed to the success of our clients. You won’t have to deal with the egos of large consulting firms – your success and progression are everything to us. In our work, everyone feels safe and inspired.
We do everything –
- Cultural Development
- Leadership Development
- Executive Coaching
- Online Leadership Solutions
- Team Alignment and Building
- Safety Leadership
- 360 Degree Leadership Assessments
- Project and Bid Team Development
- Survey Design and Reporting
About the Author – Sonia McDonald
Sonia is founder of Leadership HQ and is also a renowned and award-winning author, having written several of her own books, Leadership Attitude, Just Rock It! and First Comes Courage as well as being a regular contributor in The Australian, HRD Magazine, Smart Healthy Women and Women’s Business Media. She was named as one of the Top 250 Influential Women in the world as well as Top 100 Australian Entrepreneurs by Richtopia.
Through her leadership advisory and coaching work at LeadershipHQ, and founding the Outstanding Leadership Awards, Sonia is internationally recognised as an expert in leadership and culture, organisational development, neuroscience, kindness, and courage.
Sonia is also a full-time single parent and has a passion for women in business and teenage mental health. Sonia travels and speaks across Australia and Globe, and she is on a mission to building a world of great leaders and leadership.