Changing the world beyond the big screen

The Adelaide alum shining light on why culture is key in the success of every modern business.

Didier Elzinga

Didier Elzinga walked away from Hollywood to make a dent in the universe.

As CEO of internationally renowned visual effects company Rising Sun Pictures, which worked on blockbusters including The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and the Batman movies, the softly spoken entrepreneur was on a quest to find something more meaningful.

“I’d spent 13 years in the film industry and I’d learned a lot, but I was at the point where I wanted to do something bigger,” said the University of Adelaide mathematical and computer sciences graduate.

In a bid to make the world of work a better place, Didier launched Culture Amp, a global start-up that uses analytics to measure companies’ culture, boost employee morale and create environments where people thrive.

“Even when I was at Rising Sun Pictures, a lot of what drove me was, ‘how do we do this differently, how do we better marshal the talent of the people we have and use that to create a more successful company?’” he said.

According to Didier, workplace culture is the biggest determinant of success in the modern business world.

“There are some interesting stats to support this…80 years ago, 80 per cent of the asset value of the S&P 500 (which is the American stock market index) was tangible assets – it was buildings; it was inventory; it was goods. Today it is 25 per cent.

“The value in the businesses we are running today is increasingly intangible – it’s brand, it’s IP [intellectual property], it’s the knowledge inside people’s heads.”

Since launching in 2011, Culture Amp now has more than 2000 companies using its software, including Adobe, McDonalds, Airbnb, Etsy, Pixar and Nike. 

Didier said organisations are realising that culture is at the heart of the company and are therefore applying new ways of thinking when it comes to diversity, inclusiveness and creating a sense of belonging.

“It’s a complicated issue – it’s not just about how you increase the diversity among people in your company, it’s about how you truly become more inclusive on a whole range of spectrums,” he said.

Didier Elzinga
It’s not just about how you increase the diversity among people in your company, it’s about how you truly become more inclusive on a whole range of spectrums.Didier Elzinga


Companies are also applying new ways of thinking about employee wellbeing, in particular mental wellbeing.

“Mental health is now the third largest health cost globally, behind cancer and cardiology,” said Didier.

“The interesting work for organisations lies in looking at how to destigmatise mental health…how do we design our organisations to support people, or how do we redesign parts of our work to make them less likely to lead to people getting sick?”

In his own workplace, Didier knows it’s vital to walk the talk and looks for evidence of his organisation’s values in action as an indicator of the company’s health.

“We are a very values-led organisation, they are at the heart of everything we do,” he said.

“One of the things I talk about quite a bit is that values are not what you want on a good day, values are what you are willing to hurt for every day.

“What are the things we can do today to bring those values to life?”

When posed with the question of what the workforce of the future will look like, Didier said the idea that organisations will need to change drastically to meet Gen Z’s and millennials’ expectations is a smokescreen, and we are doing ourselves a disservice by thinking this way.

“If you look at the data, there is not a huge difference between the different generations – it’s a cohort effect, so the way a 16 year old feels today is pretty similar to how a 16 year old felt 40 years ago.

“What’s happening is the nature of work is changing, not the people, and what the world demands is now different whether you are 15 or 50,” he said.

Didier Elzinga

Didier believes the future of work will be shaped by the ‘gig economy’, where people are employed to work on a freelance or project basis rather than in permanent jobs, coupled with the rise in needing to solve more complicated problems which will require people to work together for longer periods.

“I think we are going to simultaneously get a web of interconnected people that are in the gig economy, and at the same time we are going to need to create really coherent, effective organisations that are able to marshal large numbers of people towards ideas for a long period of time,” he said.

According to Didier, understanding that vulnerability is a strength rather than a weakness is an important part of Culture Amp’s culture.

“Vulnerability goes to the heart of our culture, what we want to achieve and how we want to interact,” he said.

Didier credits his wife, opera singer and psychologist Greta Bradman with teaching him how to have the courage to be vulnerable, also conceding she is one of his most important mentors.

“I’ll often seek Greta’s guidance to help me understand the psychology behind aspects of [Culture Amp’s] products, how I mentor people, even the way I lead.

“Her knowledge and thinking has framed so much of my own thought processes about the intersection between psychology and organisation.”

Story by Kelly Brown
Photos by Meaghan Coles

Tagged in lumen, lumen Winter 2019