Company culture is the invisible maker or breaker of success
How strong is yours?
The majority of leaders we talk to agree that having a positive company culture is good for business – sharing the same ideals, going after the same goals and trusting in each other. But the reality on a national scale paints a different picture, with more employees than ever suffering at the hands of a negative culture. This is bad for business – to the tune of £23.6bn in the UK – and bad for our collective health.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Investing in your culture, as equally as you invest in your business strategy and development, will have a long-term positive effect on the strength and value of your business. This makes sense if you consider that in a positive culture, the majority of people are engaged - which means they are happier, living your values and investing themselves and their talent in driving your business forward.
AVOIDING THE TRAPS
It’s easy to read this and assume it’s simple. Or to look at your numbers and assume that ‘success’ is an indication of a positive culture. It might well be. But it’s sensible to be certain when you consider what it will cost you to correct a negative one later down the line.
Firstly, see through the surface of success. Often, success in performance terms can be misleading if the aftermath is a workforce that’s exhausted, overworked and resentful. Look at your business and how you are achieving success and whether it’s sustainable, particularly for your people.
Secondly, being a leader and having ‘leaders’ is not the same as showing great leadership. Leadership is a two-way process and it means making the effort to understand your people and always walking the talk. It’s not enough to just talk about the change you want to see in your business, lead by example and empower others to do the same.
And thirdly, be careful what you tolerate. When it comes to people and behaviour - particularly behaviour that’s counter to your values - whatever you choose to tolerate will send a signal and set a standard that will be repeated, or resented.
GETTING THE BALANCE RIGHT
Avoiding these culture traps starts with seeing a full picture of business health from a quantitative and qualitative point of view. Start by looking at your people and performance metrics and how they relate to one another. What proportion of your employees are positively engaged? To what extent do they trust leaders to do what they say they’re going to do? How well are you attracting and retaining only the right talent? What impact is this having on your potential to be more productive and profitable?
This kind of data and insight matters, and more than ever when businesses are under pressure to be more flexible and fluid in their approach to talent and ways of working. Indeed, the call for greater flexibility is largely reported as a ‘millennial’ demand but it’s actually just reality when you consider the lives we lead and what technology now enables. Not to mention the proven positive impact on productivity when you get the balance right. Getting to this position starts with setting clear expectations and building a culture of trust and mutual respect.
A FRAMEWORK FOR CULTURE
Success is a balancing act and it relies on having a strong core - the alignment of all the things that hold a business together, give it strength and direct it forward.
So how do you strengthen your core?
- Clarify your ambition – it should be motivating enough to give you direction and drive.
- Connect your strategy – it should be well-focused to keep you on track to achieve your ambition.
- Define your values – they should express what’s most important to you and will never be compromised.
- And make sure that every act of leadership and every behaviour lives up to these values.
Get these fundamentals right and you’re winning. You’ll have meaning through an ambition that’s clear, shared and people want to strive for. You’ll inspire membership through a culture of leadership and trust that people want to subscribe to. And you’ll have momentum through a focus and commitment in the all the right areas.
MANAGING YOUR CULTURE FOR GROWTH
Start by making sure you have the full picture, set clear benchmarks and be realistic about the improvements you expect to see from year one to year three. Remember that the data will only show you so much, so if you’re seeing a sudden drop in trust and/or a spike in turnover, get to why it’s happening quickly before it becomes a trend.
Once you’ve figured out where the barriers and opportunities lie, you’ll benefit from a culture action plan to focus your efforts. This plan is as vital as any other, so ensure you have clear objectives and actions in order to track progress. Be realistic, make sure the actions have timings and clear responsibilities, and monitor it monthly. For example, it’s easy to take values too far or rewards not far enough but just as easy to course correct if you get there early enough. Involving your formal and informal leaders in shaping the plan is also a great way of keeping things realistic and embedding improvements successfully.
Whatever you choose to action will be just as specific as your culture is. However, if you consider that culture is experienced, explore every element of that. This includes recruitment and retention, people development, ways of working, communication, reward and recognition and health and wellbeing. And this extends to your clients because they are contributors, beneficiaries and, in some cases, detractors of your culture. Involve them in what you are building - at least to the extent they understand the standards and customs you hold dear.
Though it’s challenging to cover everything, here are 7 secret weapons at your disposal:
- Recruit forward – know who you want long before you need them
- Part positively – give those who leave as much care as those who join
- Reward thoughtfully - reward how a target is reached not just the result
- Review regularly - assess and guide continuously not just once or twice a year
- Adopt a millennial mindset – understand and engage, you may be surprised what you learn
- Share what’s meaningful – fun and quirk is important, but culture’s so much more
- Embrace failure – share and learn as a route to success
ARE YOU MISSING OUT?
Culture is essential when it comes to the growth of your business. When positive it has the power to make you significantly more productive, more profitable and more protected.
So, how positive is your culture today and are you maximising its full potential? Leave it to chance and you’re reducing the growth, profitability and value of your business – not to mention making it a lot less enjoyable to be a part of every day.