Trust, Service

& Accountability

Behaving Ethically

3.6 Changing Agency Culture

Four types of culture

Culture consists of the unwritten ground rules that exist in all organisations about “how we do things around here”. 

These ground rules are often expressed in the form of sentences that begin with the phrase “Around here …”  For example, “Around here it isn’t worth making suggestions because nothing gets done” or “Around here the only time you hear from your manager is when something goes wrong”. 

These ground rules are perpetuated through:

  • Employee beliefs about how work is carried out in practice in their agency or workplace
  • Work practices that employees learn and actually use to get things done.

These beliefs and practices are learned on the job through formal and informal inductions, conversations, “war stories” and other forms of corporate knowledge.

Typically the actual beliefs and work practices about how work gets organised, prioritised, carried out and rewarded vary significantly from the official statements of policy, procedures and practices. 

Agency cultures may be organisation-wide or there may be workplace-level sub-cultures.

There are four general types of culture that exist in the public and private sectors. [1]

The three positive cultures are those where:

  • Employees welcome and seek to introduce change and innovation
  • Leaders care for their employees and foster collaboration
  • There is an ambition to deliver results and a focus on achieving goals such as quality service delivery to customers and clients. 

Agencies with these positive ethical values and work practices typically have higher employee performance, better customer service, are more innovative and have higher productivity. [2]

By comparison, organisations with the fourth common culture – based on values of control, risk aversion and fear – are significantly poorer performers.

Organisational culture, however, is not fixed. It evolves slowly over time, and more importantly, it can be consciously changed with strong leadership (at all levels of the agency) and with the active participation of employees in the development of new standards of conduct, new work practices and new beliefs about what is acceptable conduct at work. 

Significantly, the objective, values and principles of the Ethical Framework provide the bases for an organisational culture that is associated with positive employee morale, innovation, better customer service and higher levels of productivity.

[1] See “Corporate Governance Culture”, Standards Australia (Standard HB 408-2006) and the “Ethics Stocktake” (PSC, 2011) (