In the turbulent sea of modern management, traditional systems like KPIs and OKRs offer navigational buoys, guiding us towards predefined goals. Yet, nestled beneath the surface lies a deeper current, an unseen force propelling organizations toward lasting success: the tide of culture.
Indeed, management by culture is not just a feel-good buzzword. It’s a strategic choice, a conscious decision to weave the very fabric of your organization from values, shared purpose and an unwavering commitment to individual growth. It’s about ditching rigid, top-down structures and fostering a dynamic ecosystem in which responsibility, teamwork and result-orientation blossom naturally.
Take, for instance, HR Digest, our Vietnamese-American organization for which I am the executive director. Here we don’t chase targets relentlessly. Instead, we dí (a Vietnamese word, pronounced “TK,” for “chase,” but with a sense of humor) each other—a constant pursuit of collective growth, an unspoken pact in which no one falls behind. From the executive director to the newest intern, we share a visceral understanding that our individual efforts fuel the engine of our mission.
Dí means we not only strive for our own goals but become active cheerleaders and coaches for one another. Every member of HR Digest is not just a participant but also a cheerleader, urging everyone on, offering support, and celebrating individual and collective victories. This dí spirit fosters a powerful sense of accountability—not from imposed metrics, but from the deep-seated desire to see one another thrive.
Dí becomes even more vibrant when fueled by our three core values: Learn, Innovate and Collaborate. We learn from each other’s successes and failures, constantly pushing the boundaries of knowledge and expertise. We innovate not just for the sake of novelty, but because we believe in finding better ways to achieve our mission. And above all, we collaborate, understanding that the magic happens when diverse perspectives unite toward a common goal.
Of course, this cultural revolution thrives on strong leadership. Our leaders are not conductors barking orders. They are dí champions, leading by example with an unwavering commitment to growth and development. They invest in their teams, offer honest feedback and celebrate individual achievements. When the founder sits alongside interns, brainstorming ideas and offering support, it sends a powerful message—we’re in this together, and every voice matters.
But dí isn't about blind pursuit or mindless cheering. It’s about nurturing growth, offering a space where vulnerability meets support. Here, honest feedback isn’t a weapon; it’s a tool for development. We believe in difficult conversations, in heart-to-hearts that challenge and uplift in equal measure. This culture of constructive criticism, born from genuine care, empowers individuals to shed their limiting beliefs and evolve into their best selves.
Naturally, this philosophy of mutual growth demands trust—complete, unwavering trust in the potential of every team member. We don’t micromanage or treat individuals as replaceable cogs. Instead, we create an environment where autonomy thrives, where initiative is applauded and where mistakes are viewed as stepping stones on the path to mastery.
The results of this cultural revolution are evident. HR Digest consistently surpasses its goals, becoming the most thriving HR organization in Vietnam, not because of pressure or fear but because of the collective dí spirit, the unwavering belief in each other and the joy of contributing to a shared purpose. We attract and retain talent not with fancy perks but with the promise of a space where they can learn, grow and make a true difference.
Management by culture is not a one-size-fits-all formula. It’s a journey, a continuous dance between individual aspirations and collective goals. It demands courage, vulnerability and a deep-seated belief in the power of human potential. However, the rewards are immeasurable—a vibrant organization pulsating with energy, a workforce driven by purpose, and the sweet symphony of individual growth harmonizing with the triumphant melody of collective success.
This is the power of dí and the future of leading. Are you ready to create your symphony?
Ben Nguyen, SPHR, is the founder and executive director of HR Digest, a nonprofit organization based in Vietnam that aims to uplift the HR and people management communities in that country.