A guide to a crafted culture

Written by
Dean Lamble

28 Jan 2016

28 Jan 2016 • by Dean Lamble

Culture crafts the organisation

As someone with a background in strategy, I know the impact it can make – we’re already reaping the rewards of having a strong strategy at SunLife. But culture is absolutely vital too. Your strategy is essentially an idea, a direction of travel – but your culture determines how that strategy actually gets done. A strong culture is how you attract and keep the best people. It’s how everyone works together to be more than the sum of their parts. It’s how you get from good to great. 

"And that is why hiring someone with great business skills but bad cultural fit is a bad hire."

Culture has always been important at SunLife – we’ve always felt a little bit different from many financial services, because we’ve always acted with the entrepreneurial enthusiasm of a start-up. But 2015 was a turning point, where we really put our culture under the microscope. It was really a matter of asking why.

Why does SunLife exist? 

If you’ve seen Simon Sinek talk you’ll be familiar with his mantra of ‘Start with why.’ It’s the idea that many businesses focus on what they do (where they want to compete) and how they do it (their competitive advantage) but forget the why. 

What is your why?

Yet, having a clear ‘why’ is not only attractive to customers – who might then choose you because they understand your values and your approach, not just what you happen to sell – it’s also very compelling for staff. Suddenly, we all have a clear idea of why we come to work, not simply what and how we want to sell.

For SunLife, we exist is to make financial services easier, more engaging and more accessible for everyone, so they can feel good about their financial future. That’s our why. 

Knowing that gives us a great foundation to build our culture on – one where everything we do is about making financial services easier, more engaging and more accessible, regardless of the product, the channel, the advertising, the audience, the competition… we know our why.

To deliver on that, we identified three themes – areas where we knew we could develop a powerful, stimulating culture. The themes were around the way we all work together, cutting through and being brave enough to challenge the status quo. 


The three Cs Collaborative, Creative, Courageous

Collaborative – at one extreme, you find businesses where every team works in a silo. At the other: a business where every decision needs four meetings involving 35 people and nothing gets done. We worked on a culture of effective collaboration encouraging teamwork where everyone respects the different skills we all bring to the table and people are empowered to make decisions.

Creative – this is the future of SunLife. By putting creative thinking at the heart of what we do we are encouraging our staff to have the passion to try new things, to use technology to innovate, and excite.

Courageous – it’s important that staff  not only believe in the business, its purpose and themselves, but also that they have the courage to be bold and determined, and are prepared to cut-through to make a difference, challenging the status quo, and keep on asking ‘why’ until they get a better answer.  

An example of how the three Cs are already working can be seen in the results of SunLife’s ‘temp check’ – a short, monthly survey where staff answer questions about how happy they are at work, whether they understand our business strategy, and if they’d like to name anyone who’s gone the extra mile at work.  

Over time this gives us clear trends and valuable management information on topics including what it’s like to work here, how new starters are feeling, and what we can do to make it an even better place to work.

Shortly after a structural realignment in early 2015, happiness was recorded at 75% and understanding of our strategy was at 70%.  Following the relaunch of our cultural values, there has been an uplift in these numbers to 89% and 97% within six months – a phenomenal increase.

That gives me great confidence that we’re on the right track, that our people are behind our why and keen to take SunLife forward. So, strategy or culture? I think both are vital – and both are helping SunLife lead the way in key areas of our business.