How To Leverage Return To Work Choices To Deliberately Evolve Your Culture

Many are still grappling with return-to-work decisions. Who should return? When? How often? How long each week or each day? Some consider these decisions to be discreet and tactical. You are not. The environment, including who works independently and from where, is a central part of culture and is intrinsically linked to behaviours, relationships, attitudes and values. Returning to work opportunities gives leaders a rare opportunity to reassess and refocus their cultural development.

On the one hand, culture cannot be dictated. It exists and evolves on its own and is made up of the collective characters of everyone in your organization. As everyone changes, so does the culture – bit by bit and step by step. On the other hand, you can influence their development, and doing so is an essential role of leadership, as culture is the only sustainable asset any organization has.

Some define culture as “the way we do things here”. Others take more thorough and complex approaches. BRAVE is a middle ground, simple enough to be general purpose and robust enough to guide decisions across behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values, and environments.

Different subdefinitions of BRAVE may be appropriate for different organizations. Here’s a phrase you can use as a starting point:


  • decisions: Hierarchical, Controlled, Fixed vs. Disseminated, Debated, Evolving
  • activities: Aware, Prepared, Rule-Abiding vs. Intuitive, Inventive, Inquiring
  • discipline: Stable, structured, predictable vs. flexible and fluid


  • authority: Result-oriented, directive, dominant vs. purpose-oriented, encouraging, caring
  • Unit: Independent individuals or groups vs. an interdependent team
  • communication: Formal, written, impersonal vs. informal, oral, personal


  • strategy: Driving a minimally viable product at the lowest possible cost versus innovating to create more value for customers at a premium price
  • attitude: Responding to requests, expressed desires vs. proactively anticipating future needs
  • Behavior: Reliable, steady small steps vs. big leaps


  • purpose: Doing good for ourselves or things we are good at vs. doing good for others (happiness)
  • To learn: Goal-oriented, task-oriented, rigid vs. open, growth-oriented, flexible
  • risk profile: Protect what is now vs. risk more to gain more


  • Physically: Secluded, walled, formal vs. present, open, casual
  • impetus for Change: A change in our ambitions, capabilities, mindset vs. a change in external conditions, hurdles
  • growth promoter: Scientific, technical, mechanical vs. artistic, intuitive, social

Just as distant versus present return to work is not binary – different people may be distant or present at different times – all of these dimensions are ranges.

The choices are linked. It will be much more effective for those who work more interdependent being physically present in the same place, discussing and exploring ideas in person and encouraging each other. Conversely, those who work more independently can be able to take task-driven, steady small steps and communicate formally from anywhere.

Two things CEOs should never delegate are vision and culture. Delegating the organization’s overall decision about where to work is delegating a crucial cultural component. Do not do it. You can do this for sub-teams and sub-cultures, but not for the organization as a whole.

How to take steps

  1. Ground everything in the core essence of the organization. The cultures of design, production, supply and service organizations must differ fundamentally. Be clear about who you are and use that as a starting point for your cultural choices.
  2. Build general agreement with your current culture by mapping the above dimensions, or more specifically appropriate dimensions, to a range from 1 to 5. Getting that roughly right is good enough for this exercise.
  3. Build a general agreement on how things should develop in order to move towards your ideal culture based on the core essence of the organization.
  4. Select the very few dimensions (as in one through three) that you want to develop first.
  5. Develop, implement, track and adjust plans to influence these developments – including return-to-work decisions.

click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #796) and a synopsis of my book on executive onboarding: The new leader’s 100-day plan of action.

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