When you ask most people what the most important thing in their business is, they usually reply: people. And then you ask them to describe their culture, and they generally mumble something that we roughly translate to "its really good (but we both know its not)" or “I have no bloody clue”.
Culture may sound like one of those airy fairy terms that doesn’t mean much but it’s actually integral to a business. How integral? It’s 8x (yes, 8!) more impactful than strategy. How can that be? Well a strategy is all well and good but if you don’t have your team working hard to help execute it, it will just remain that – a plan.
Answer us this: how many times have you hired an exceptional person, just to watch them slump into lacklustre performance or leave your business unexpectedly? How many times have you despaired, knowing your team is full of smart and competent people, but yet no one seems to show it? What could your business look like if everyone in your team was motivated and working towards the same goal? How powerful would that be?!
Well that pretty much comes down to culture.
Every company has a culture. Whether it’s good or bad is up to you.
A workplace culture is really the personality and character of your business. It’s how people treat each other. It’s how people lead. It’s what you celebrate. It’s what you don’t tolerate. It’s how you – and your employees – make decisions. It’s your work environment, your processes, your communication, your traditions. It’s NOT a slide in reception or a snooze-pod on level two (although those can be facets of it).
Here’s a quick rundown on why a good culture is important:
It’s easier to hire good talent, because you become a strong business that talent want to be a part of
Hopefully you’ll just be hiring for growth because a good culture results in engagement and retention ie less churn
It makes your team feel happy and safe and satisfied. And you know what? They work harder and smarter as a result.
It positively impacts performance. Less “people problems” = more focus on performance. Bingo.
But know this: if you don’t manage your culture, it will manage you. If you don’t actively create the culture you want your business to have, you’ll end up with the wrong one… possibly incited by the least positive member of your team. You’ll end up with a directionless culture which stems from a mishmash of your employees’ thoughts and experiences. Culture is constantly changing and you cannot outperform it.
In Inc.com, Brett Gleeson wrote that this kind of "ad-hoc" culture can have some positives.
“You can think of it like a big tailgate party before a football game. If you happen to end up with the right people, and the weather holds out, and everybody ends up liking the food, the party will be a fun experience.
“But high-performance organizations don't leave those kinds of details to chance. They make the conscious decision to build and define a culture that attracts and retains the right team members, promotes the organization's values and reinforces those values throughout the company with consistent action.
“And their culture is aligned with specific strategic objectives – culture matches strategy,” he says.
So what’s a good workplace culture?
One where you define what culture you want for your business (you might be hot on flexible working, work-life balance, family, excellence in all areas, career progression for all). Then you align it with your vision and strategy – no point in having a culture that works against what you want to do and where you want to be. Then – and this is the tricky bit – establish it. Authentically.