15 April 2019
Why Company Culture Has Never Been More Important
How would you define your company’s culture? If you had to think about the answer, or struggled to put your thoughts into words, chances are your company doesn’t have a well-defined culture; or if it does, it isn’t being communicated properly.
“So what?” you might say. “What matters is that our employees are productive, and that our customers are satisfied.” And you’d be right. But like never before, company culture plays a decisive role in ensuring these outcomes. Here’s why.
If a company were a person, its culture would be its personality – the things it stands for, believes in, and is passionate about. And just like with people, each company is different.
These differences go beyond the product or service that you sell, or the design of your logo, to make up the fundamental character of your company, and the way it goes about its business – everything from the working environment to the values it aims to promote.
As you know from your personal relationships, if you find that someone has a disagreeable personality, a loose moral compass, or simply isn’t interested in the same things you are, you might not choose to spend time with them.
The same is true of companies – if their culture doesn’t match your own ideals, or if you believe that they are saying one thing and doing another, you might avoid applying for a job there, or buying their products or services.
Company culture and younger generations
Alongside technological disruption, one of the biggest catalysts for change in the world of work is shifting workforce demographics.
Workplace culture and the attitudes that drive it tend to reflect those of the dominant generation. As millennials and Gen Z replace baby boomers as the driving force in the workplace, old approaches to work are being challenged and rethought.
Unlike baby boomers, these younger generations no longer expect, or even desire, a job for life. They are more resilient to change and uncertainty, and value experiences and personal growth over job security. Likewise, they tend to be more conscious of the environmental and social issues facing society.
As a result, younger generations tend to pick their employers carefully, and are likely to leave a company without a second thought if it doesn’t live up to their expectations. The way a company treats its employees, the environment in which they work, and the values that they uphold – its company culture, that is – matter more now than ever before.
Millennials and Gen Z want to work for organisations that take issues such as the environment, diversity, gender equality, and mental health seriously. They value transparency, honesty, openness, and inclusivity – and they expect their employer to do so too. Moreover, they have a keen nose for hypocrisy – if a company says one thing and does another, they’ll soon get found out.
What do you stand for?
Try not to approach company culture as a set of initiatives, but rather the guiding principles behind the decisions you make, and the values that you ask each and every employee to exhibit at work.
Many companies fail to see this distinction. They think a trendy new office space and informal dress code equals a healthy company culture. Some companies may appear a fun place to work on the surface, but underneath that superficial layer lies a rotten culture that leads to a miserable workforce.
Instead of aiming for quick fixes, companies should focus on laying the foundations for a healthy, vibrant and positive workplace by defining their company culture.
The clearest way to do this is to condense your identity down into a set of core values or a mission statement. These dictate the way you go about business, and set the standard for all employees to reach, regardless of what position they hold.
In order to define your core values, you need to ask yourself some probing questions. Here are a few examples:
- What do we stand for?
- What makes us different from every other company?
- What are the characteristics and behaviours we value most, and why?
- What are we doing to help the community, society, and the environment?
Once you have figured out what defines your company culture, you need to embed it into the very fabric of the organisation. You need to be able to say with confidence: this is who we are, this is what we do, and this is how we do it.
Get this right and your staff will know exactly what is required of them. Your company culture will be a magnet for top talent, and a source of inspiration to your workforce.
Walk the walk
Ultimately, a mission statement or set of core values is just a load of corporate waffle – unless people uphold them. If you preach about openness and trust but then lead by fear, your company culture will be based around hypocrisy. People will see through it, and they won’t like what they see.
Defining your culture through a set of values shouldn’t be seen as a box-ticking exercise for HR or marketing, but as an essential part of your future success. These values shouldn’t be shelved in some dark corner of your company intranet, but constantly returned to.
They should be discussed at interview, used as a reference during performance check-ins and meetings, and as a guide for the decision-making process at every level of the organisation. If they aren’t, they are as good as useless. Worse, they could be positively destructive to your reputation and credibility.
Getting this right couldn’t be more important. A well-defined company culture gives your organisation a sense of identity and direction. It acts as a reference point for all staff, from top to bottom, in their daily work. It unites the workforce behind a set of common values, and instils a sense of community and togetherness.
In today’s fragmented world, these things have never been more important.