The story behind changing workplace cultures

8 min read

For many years, internal communications was a poorly resourced function, too often lumbered with the job of dressing-up bad news. Corporate communications focused on the benefits of new processes, new technology, globalisation and offshoring; to produce stronger, more efficient, more robust businesses. But for many employees, streamlining and simplifying were watch-words that brought about job cuts.

Corporate culture was often fodder for stereotyping: Think the no-holds barred performance-led Wolf of Wall Street at one end of the spectrum and the bemused PR Agency from W1A with its ping-pong boardroom table on the other end. Classically, though there are four types of workplace culture:

  1. Clan Culture which is geared towards collaboration
  2. Adhoracy Culture focused around innovation
  3. Market Culture with it’s eye firmly on the bottom-line
  4. Hierarchy Culture built on firm structures and order

Although it would be easy to pigeon-hole brands within one of these categories, assume Apple = Adhoracy or Goldman Sachs = Market, companies often transition from one to the other, or combine elements of each. For much of the past 40 years, the dominant form has been the performance-led approach of the Market Culture.

However, there has been a shift. Over the last two years, companies all over the world have moved towards people-led cultures, which has the upside of reimagining the role of internal communications.

In part, the sudden lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 had the curious effect of making businesses value their people more. Managers and company directors recognised remote-working staff’s impressive resilience and commitment to keep business going in the most trying circumstances. Few would argue against their dedicated employees who worked remotely at kitchen tables, used ironing boards for desks, and were fundamental to the survival of many companies during that time.

The pandemic, like other seismic moments in history–the two World Wars, the 1970s fuel crisis, the fall of Communism–has amplified trends and made them glue for social change. Covid and the lockdowns created a space for society to pull back the curtain and start appreciating the lived experience of others.

Prior to 2020, the #MeToo movement had shifted workplace conversations. The appetite to hear different voices and expect action existed, but to effect true organisational change required space for a reset. The lockdown provided this space, along with a renewed sense of global solidarity and social empathy which galvanised a wide range of people around Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ rights and climate change.

It is almost as if by working remotely and being isolated from eachother, people became more aware of one another’s experience. They sought to be better allies, challenging the companies they worked for and the brands they bought from to step up. Diversity & Inclusion roles, already important in many companies, became essential to all.

Now, as we move forward from the worst of the pandemic, change and transformation within the workplace is increasingly more people-focused and less tech-focused. Though technology remains important, it is now seen as a means to connect people rather than replace them.

Facebook’s evolution to Meta reflects this explicitly as it pushes to create the Metaverse. Through its mission statement, it aims:

To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.

As ‘elite performance cultures’ of the recent past are replaced, and the Great Resignation becomes the Great Opportunity, companies must work harder to attract potential employees. Old carrots like renumeration are now one part of the package staff are looking for. “What are your values?” “Tell me about your culture.” These are common questions from today’s interviewees.

Values and behaviours, always important to HR and People teams, are now discussed in the boardroom by the C-Suite as companies sell themselves on collaboration, consideration and imagination.

For long-term employees this cultural change can be hard to understand, while to prospective hires it can be difficult to differentiate one offering from another. It has fallen to Internal Marketing, HR and People teams to spread the word.

Such cultural change needs to be communicated throughout a business if managers and directors are to adopt new values and measure current and potential employees against the new post-pandemic criteria.

As a species, we humans are pretty ingenious. We optimised the communication of complex information tens of thousands of years ago when our ancestors first started telling stories, and transformation has always been a popular theme. In fact, anthropologists have dated one Aboriginal Dreamtime story of change to the eruption of a volcano 37,000 years ago, making it the oldest story still told on record. While no one expects (or needs) a piece of corporate communication to last that long, it shows the power of a well-told story.

Unlike those pre-historic storytellers, we’re now able to elevate our messages with powerful visuals. Plenty of evidence suggests that people today are more receptive to messages communicated visually.

Creative video has been around as a corporate communication tool for decades, but the pandemic proved how effective it can be at unifying geographically disparate teams. For global organisations, or businesses with workers at multiple sites, video is the single most effective way to share a consistent message to many people at once.

At Content Creatures, we’ve developed a principle of design-led storytelling; creating informative content that inspires and delights. We believe that by developing a visual property, often inspired by elements of the existing corporate brand, we can tell stories people will recognise, enjoy and learn from.

Recognition is key, as it means we can extend a graphic property through multiple content streams–additional video, online, digital assets and print–and ensure the message of change and transformation is heard, understood and reinforced.

Recently we worked with Tate & Lyle as it evolved from a product business to one that ‘Transforms Lives Through the Science of Food’. This change has seen the company transition from a food producer to a creator of solutions for its customers.

For this strategic change to succeed, Tate & Lyle knew they had to make sure their people were aware of it. It wouldn’t be enough to send one email announcing the new corporate vision. They needed a campaign with multiple touch points to constantly and consistently reinforce the message of transformation.

Working alongside Within People, as they created the new behaviour framework, Content Creatures developed a creative principle and digital assets to promote the change internally. As well as creative concept, we also produced animated videos to communicate the new strategic direction and culture of experimentation which will enable it.

Our creative concept, The Ripple Effect, shows how change spreads outwards, influencing everything it comes into contact with. Various pockets of transformation and experimentation across the global business can intersect and react with one another to create new ripples.

The concept, seen above in the launch animation, has been carried through all levels of comms, from CEO-hosted Town halls, to PPT presentations, e-learning design, and additional animated explainers and onboarding films.

This new era of cultural transformation is positive for Internal Communications, People and HR teams because the post-pandemic landscape empowers staff, encouraging them to speak up and celebrate their differences.

How much more rewarding can a role be than encouraging people to do this? In those roles you are at the heart of evolving businesses with a mandate to promote values which harness their people’s interests and not just their labour.

If you would like to find out more about our creative approach to the Tate & Lyle cultural change project, or to find out how we can help tell the story of your business’s transformation, why not drop us a line at or even book a meeting.