The term ‘company culture’ is thrown around a lot. But what does it actually mean? Is it tied to a physical location, or can it be experienced in the kind of virtual work setting most of us are currently in due to Covid-19 and social distancing?
In essence, a company culture is its personality, its atmosphere, and its tone. But unlike great lighting and good music, it doesn’t just affect the ambience of a workplace. It informs and impacts everything from talent acquisition and company image to your bottom line. It is the way in which you experience Zoom or Team calls; company culture is how a company makes you feel, and how you experience it.
One of the most important things to recognise about company culture is that every workplace has one; it’s not an optional extra. That’s why it’s vital to set, shape, and reinforce it. Get it wrong and you can expect an endless sea of challenges - some of which are almost impossible to overcome. Get it right and you can expect increased staff retention, a strong brand identity and a positive corporate image.
And no. Company culture is not wedded to a physical location. Consider Automattic where most employees work remotely. The company is well regarded for empowering its workers, and encouraging creativity with a focus on results not work processes. This all fosters a company culture anchored in freedom and flexibility.
Here’s the lowdown on company culture and why taking control of it is crucial to running a successful business…
We’ve all heard the horror stories about toxic work cultures. Big brands like Lululemon and Uber have made the headlines for all the worst reasons in recent years: harrassment, discrimination, sexual misconduct. The fact that we’re still talking about them now proves that these PR nightmares don’t always come out in the wash.
"It’s crucial to prioritise employee welfare."
Once your brand name and image are associated with a negative workplace culture, changing that culture (and changing public perception) is an almost impossible challenge. That’s why it’s crucial to prioritise employee welfare. How you treat your employees is one of the biggest factors in how people will ultimately view your brand.
Take Twitter or Google for example. The perception of these companies as fun-loving, forward-thinking and generous all starts in-house: the cultures they’ve created amongst their employees have significantly contributed to the brand image. The benefits of this are seen in their sales, customer loyalty, and staff retention; Google employees stay for an average of 3.2 years.
One of the most critical functions of a corporate culture is to create unity. When you have a clear, defined corporate culture, you effectively solidify and focus the business’ core values and goals. Everyone knows what the company’s identity is and what you’re working towards.
A strong sense of identity is the thing which promotes teamwork and good morale; it pulls individuals together to work towards a clear, shared goal. Southwest Airlines’ corporate culture is a great example of this.
Challenging the perception of airlines as being impersonal and having poor customer service, Southwest Airlines’ identity is clear and unambiguous: customer happiness and satisfaction is the number one priority. In order for this to be more than a PR soundbite, employees have carte blanche to go the extra mile and do whatever it takes to make sure customers are happy. This is an approach that is coming into its own during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This type of empowerment and shared vision creates excitement and energy, and ultimately leads to happier employees.
Talent acquisition and retention
If you want to attract and retain the best talent, you need a great corporate culture. These days, brilliant company cultures are thankfully no longer an anomaly, so if yours is anything less than great, you’re likely to experience difficulty in hiring and retaining staff.
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When your company culture is positive and vibrant, more employees will want to stay long-term. This translates to less time and money spent hiring, and lower turnover, which ultimately means your team will enjoy better chemistry and morale.
Unsurprisingly, companies with positive cultures that put employee wellbeing first often gain a reputation for being people-oriented - and therefore somewhere that people want to work. So what does this type of culture look like, in practice?
It takes much more than ping-pong and free coffee. It’s about weaving the core beliefs and values of a company into the culture at every level and creating practices that encourage both personal and business growth. A good example is Adobe.
The computer software giant has built its corporate culture firmly on trust and creativity. Instead of micromanaging, they’ve created a culture which trusts that employees will do their best. Rather than top-down management, managers are more like coaches; there to guide and encourage instead of instruct. Employees set their own goals and choose how they would like to be assessed - all with the aim of promoting true creative freedom and independence.
"They create workplaces that people are proud and happy to be part of."
Adobe’s approach demonstrates the importance of action over words in setting corporate culture. Any company can have their core values written on the wall but to truly create a culture that reflects those values, they have to be embedded in the day-to-day running of the business. When companies get this right, they create workplaces that people are proud and happy to be part of.
Ultimately, company culture is the foundation for everything else - the very essence of a business. If it’s negative, things will eventually fall apart. If it’s healthy, you’ll have a much better chance of creating a thriving, long-term business. The most important thing to remember about culture is that - like all other aspects of business - it requires strong leadership. But it isn’t just about setting it. For a culture to work, it needs to be lived, breathed, and nurtured every day.
If you want to find out more about how to implement a healthy company culture, get in touch.