Company culture is critical to your success

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​Whenever I mention workplace culture to leaders it’s often met with dismissal. In fact it’s been my experience that companies often take a passive approach to culture

I’m not sure if Web 1.0 was what started the 'cool place to work' trend, but it’s certainly a lesson in what can happen if workplace culture is misunderstood. You might ask if all the financial issues and lack of business planning in that era could have been changed by corporate culture. I’m going to argue that they could, which is meant to issue a not-so-subtle warning to companies that still misunderstand this vital concept.

Company culture is not an afterthought or a strategy for recruitment – it’s a critical aspect of business success and in this era of rapid disruption it should be a key part of your strategy to thrive in any market condition.

Therefore, since it really is this important, let’s talk about what culture does and how to create a winning one for your business.

What is workplace culture?

If you think about the corporation as a body and the CEO as the brain, your people are the heart. Corporate culture is how the circulatory system works – it’s the combination of how your vision, mission and values are brought to life through the talent you attract and retain.

Culture is the heartbeat of a company and deploys that vital lifeblood (your people) to where it’s needed to keep the body moving. It thrives if it’s maintained appropriately; if expectations are set and maintained and obstacles are removed. A healthy circulatory system maintains itself. However, if you don’t take care of your heart and ignore signs of ill health it can cause the body to shut down.

How you deliver that lifeblood is unique to your business. Your culture is a direct result of leaders taking care of the heart and giving it what it needs to operate effectively. This is where both management and HR professionals play important, powerful roles in shaping the health and vitality of the organisation.

How businesses get culture wrong

Here’s the thing: instead of culture, many CEOs are concerned with the engagement and performance of individuals, only so far as their immediate execution on corporate goals. They figure if the work is getting done, the culture is just fine.

However, if the culture of your business isn’t thriving, if people don’t feel connected to something bigger than their paycheck and the working environment doesn’t care for the long-term connection of their people, you won’t be in business very long.

I can’t say this enough: your corporate culture is critical to the health and longevity of your business. It’s also not just HR’s job to create it. A thriving workplace culture is designed by the leadership in conjunction with HR and it’s the responsibility of every person in that organisation to maintain it. It’s about building capacity and working together to define the culture within your organisation.

When it comes to assessing culture, there are five key areas to consider:

Values

A company’s values form the foundation of its culture – they should direct and support every decision your company makes. These are the guiding principles of your organisation, so they should drive the 'why?' of what you do, along with 'how' it gets done.

Your values will not only drive actions in support of your success, they will also protect the organisation against anything that opposes it. If your people are acting in support of your values, they’ll warn of danger to come and act to counteract anything that would prevent business success.

Take a moment to assess if your specific values honestly reflect the beliefs of your organisation, inspire your people and move your business in the right direction. Do your people know what the values are? Are they connected to your 'why'? Do they act in accordance of 'how' to accomplish those values in support of corporate and individual goals?

Leadership

Again, I’m going to point out the powerful influence business leaders have on an organisation’s culture. Leadership and culture really do go hand-in-hand, and this is where HR professionals can make a profound difference.

Business leaders have a key responsibility to reinforce company values and enable employees to see how vital their contributions are to the overall delivery of the vision.

I believe that one of the best sayings a CEO can live by is 'Be the change you want to see.' Is your leadership evocative of your vision, mission, and values? Do they believe in the 'why' and create an environment that keeps people connected to the overall goal?

People

There’s a reason why companies awarded Great Place to Work plaques have so much success – they’ve fostered a company culture that attracts and retains the right people.

The question you want to ask yourself here is, do you have the right people on board? Are they inspired by your vision? Do they feel a part of what you’re trying to achieve? Are they motivated, performing and thriving? The best HR teams will work alongside senior leaders to offer opportunities to progress and demonstrate confidence in the abilities of individuals within every department.

Your employees play a huge part in defining your culture, and it starts with building a team of diverse thinking, hard-working people who feel and perform their best at work.

Communication

Another key characteristic of culture is good communication within your organisation. I mentioned the analogy of the circulatory system and I’ll use it again here. When the cells have the proper direction and are connected to the mission of how to do it, the body thrives. But get things mixed up and all hell can break loose.

Constant communication in a way that supports your values is critical to the success of your business overall and is essential for fostering a positive workplace culture, so ask yourself if your business is utilising yours effectively.

In my experience, the companies with the best workplace culture have always been those that have an open line of communication between top management and other members of staff, allow people to share their ideas, concerns and achievements, and where all departments come together to share in success.

Evaluation

Defining your company culture is not a one-time assessment; it is essential to step back and evaluate your workplace culture regularly.

These days businesses are constantly being disrupted in a rapidly-changing business world. Therefore, regular examination of your workplace presents a fantastic opportunity to highlight negative behaviours and their potential impact on the company, offer direction and drive necessary change.

Don’t rely on a one-off engagement survey; take the pulse of your culture then manage it in the way that you manage all business key performance indicators that matter. Because your workplace culture is important to the health and welfare of your company.

Rita Trehan is a business strategist, international speaker, former CHRO at Honeywell and AES Corporation and founder of Dare Worldwide

Further reading

Webinar: Turning toxic cultures around

Webinar: Achieving competitive edge through culture

Culture change is never instant

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