Ever been in a setting where you could feel a cloud of stagnant frustration hanging in the the air? Where every hint of positive energy seemed drained from your surrounding as people drag their feet along?
For many, this may as well be a typical work morning.
An environment riddled with low morale. The culprit? A lack of attention to culture.
What is culture?
Culture is the characteristics and social habits of a particular group of people. A school of thought commonly shared, defining values and practices.
Whether you pay attention to it or not, culture is something that forms organically as long as there are people involved.
A problem many companies face regarding culture is either a lack of care placed into the building of culture or that it’s simply a fabricated scheme which lies on top of the silent beast.
We hear it all the time, that “it’s just business” and things like, “don’t take it personally.” But at the end of the day, business is a human enterprise, made up of individuals who all play a contributing role to the rise and fall of the your company.
In the earlier posts of the Golden Circle series, we started by looking at the importance of ‘Why'. The central purpose for the very existence of a business, the very thing that differentiates your brand from everything else out there.
The one essential belief that manifests itself into every facet of your business.
Of the many facets, culture is one of them, and an integral one at that. A strong business is one that is consistent in messaging and belief, communicating from the inside out.
Your company culture is the foundational level in which your brand exists.
Since culture takes shape regardless, it’s important that you take the opportunity to cultivate a healthy one that would help push you towards your goal.
It’s always easier to start from scratch than to try and change a pre-existing culture as some things may be too resilient. However that is not to say it cannot be done, though it is better to get into action before things get out of hand.
A Shining Culture
A great culture has a way of selling itself. It not only makes your brand a more desireable place to work at, but also a more attractive place for customers to be a part of.
Getting there isn’t easy, and not all companies realize the importance of a healthy culture.
But for the ones who do, the results are evident!
Airbnb is one such business. When the company started growing, Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb was given the advice to not “fuck up the culture”.
Since then their company has shifted greater focus onto their core values.
A consistent embodiment of what they believe in, that cuts through the bureaucratic processes, and demonstrated a strong sense of identity through and through.
When the company provides the necessary building blocks for the people who believe in their goal, they will naturally take the initiative to move the company forwards.
A healthy company culture promotes a motivated team where people actually look forward to the work and are constantly in pursuit of becoming even better.
Evaluating Your Current Company Culture
A great culture is one that has everyone engaged in working towards the company goal.
Startups usually get this right as they are working with a tight knit of people with a clear vision, who are able to reinforce each other positively.
The rupture tends to occur as the business grows, bringing in more people. While growth is good, it is harder to manage.
As there is a change in company structure, the ways in which to cultivate the culture also changes.
Any half decent doctor before proposing a solution would first diagnose the condition of their patients. Likewise, it is important to determine the state of your company’s condition.
So how can you evaluate the health of our current company culture?
In our the previous articles we’ve been drilling at the importance of starting with ‘Why’ and that’s not about to stop here.
As mentioned, culture is a manifestation of your why. Therefore a healthy culture is one where this why or purpose is communicated with clarity.
The next step is the level of engagement towards your why.
It’s not enough to just know what the cause is but to also be motivated by the cause. Are people willing to go beyond their job duties and even make personal sacrifices for your why?
When there is a strong culture and belief in the cause, you’ll find that people are naturally more inclined to over deliver.
They’ll also have a stronger commitment towards the team and are more likely to see the company’s success as their own. These are the warriors you want to when building your business, people whom you know will commit.
Like in any setting, trust and fairness is crucial. Examine if people feel safe.
If the sense of safety is not present, most everything else will fail. You want to encourage people so that they will be willing to put the bigger picture above their own needs and desires.
However, a volatile environment undermines that entirely, retracting people to fighting among each other.
A strong culture is one where people’s natural need for challenge and improvement is consistently met.
We are explorers by nature.
If the element of challenge and continued learning is absent from your culture, soon people will start to lose the sense of purpose.
Look at how people react to new tasks, what is their immediate response?
In an environment where the culture is weak, you will find many retreating from the idea of engaging with new tasks.
In a culture where continued learning is present however, not only are people more motivated to advance individually, there will also be more inter-connectivity, with people offer to help others.
Qualities To Aim For
Purpose - REI
REI’s purpose and success is well publicized both internally and externally.
Their #OptOutside campaign on Black Friday, perfectly embodies their belief and love for getting outdoors and experiencing the nature.
"I love the gear, our customers and the team I work with. I never dread going to work and find myself putting in extra time. I love what REI stands for and find it easy to talk about the Co-Op."
Openness & Integrity - Intuit
"Top leaders show by decisions and actions that they believe in the top value of 'integrity without compromise'. Most employees strive for transparency and honesty in how they do their work."
Freedom - Progressive
"Great career path, flexible work arrangements available, amazing people and an employee friendly work environment...extremely transparent and promotes a sincere customer service culture."
Inter-connectivity/ Community - Genentech
"Knowing that your work is contributing to patient's lives gives a great sense of pride and purpose in the work done here."
"There is a great deal of pride in the fact that the company is consistently listed as one of the best places to work in the bay area. This translates in high interest and motivation in maintaining the healthy culture that keeps employees happy."
Nurturing - P&G
Procter and Gamble values people.
Holding the belief that “today’s happy employees are tomorrow’s leaders” they have initiated numerous training programs in care for their employees.
"Procter and Gamble gives fantastic training and truly wants you to succeed as an individual. The culture in the plant is very positive and I feel like everyone wants to help one another."
Lesson To Be Learned
At the end of the day, your company culture is the true enterprise. It exists as long as your company exist, and is the thing that people will recognize you by.
Indeed, there are companies who continue to thrive financially without even a care for their culture. But it is only the ones who invest in building and cultivating a healthy and strong culture who are able to rise to the top.
"It’s easy to get consumed… But compared to culture, they are relatively short-term. These problems will come and go. But culture is forever."
Brian Chesky Co-founder, CEO of Airbnb
A great business is one that is true to it's belief. Appealing to others, both internally and externally through common values. What culture does your company endorses?
Enjoyed this article? Make sure to also check out the other articles from the Golden Series!