Why is Culture so important in life and business and what does it really mean?
Culture means different things in different contexts but is essentially, the way a group of people behave. This article is about culture in the business or company context.
I have read and contributed to some interesting discussions and debates on LinkedIn about it. I have also read some terrific articles about Peter Drucker's quote "Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. It seems many people get confused about what it means.
What do we mean by the Culture of an organisation or business?
Culture is not one thing! It is many things and it is measurable. Gallup inc. are experts in the field of analysing and quantifying things by making them measurable. Staff engagement is one of the core components of understanding an organisations culture and is a great benchmark to understanding it from an analytical point of view but is only one of the many components and is well covered by Gallup. See Gallup for more details.
Here is my take on what Culture means in a business. It can be defined as:
- the business purpose or mission
- the values held by the leaders of the business that are evidenced in the way they and the rest of their employees behave
- the behaviours are the acting out of the core values and are what is required to deliver the business purpose and maintain integrity
- the environment, that is, what the organisation structure looks like, how people interact, the way people behave, what is accepted behaviour and what is not, what is measured and managed such as team work and individual performance, the actual building design, furniture and fittings, in some settings such as a customer contact centre the noise level has to be taken in to account as part of the culture and an individual’s ability to function well in that environment
- the reward and recognition and care programs for employees as well as social events and the feeling of being valued by the organisation; which is part of staff engagement
- the way a business responds to current trends in their industry and how the business adapts which is sited in the New York Times as being an issue that has hampered the New York Times in the Digital era
- the sustainability of the organisation which is related to adaptability and response to industry changes as sited in Successful_Habits_of Visionary_Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras
These are just some and by no means all, of the components, I see as being important to understanding and defining what is the culture of a business or organisation.
It is not a set and forget exercise:
Culture is not a set and forget exercise, nor is it a lofty word thrown around without any substance. It is at the core of understanding how to build a successful, sustainable business.
An organisation needs to maintain their culture, be agile enough to respond to change when it is required and to constantly monitor all the components to ‘check in’ that its all still on track.
Regular maintenance of it requires focus and intention. The way people are managed, recognised, rewarded and disciplined all form part of maintaining it.
Business Culture is a big key to success
Many business household names and success stories are ones where the Culture is known to be enviable, Apple, Google, Atlassian, Twitter, Facebook and Adobe are just a few that come to mind. Young people aspire to work for them. Finding talent is potentially easier.
If a person is lucky enough to be offered a role with one of these companies, they are more likely to take it over another.
A recent visit to the Apple Store:
I recently visited Sydney, City Apple store to have my mobile phone examined for a technical issue. The experience was enjoyable from start to finish.
The centre was large, vibrant, well designed and incredibly busy. The wait time was not long because I had already booked ahead.
The attendant was polite, friendly and professional. The service/check took about 45 mins and it was thorough.
While we went through the checks on the phone, I talked with the attendant.
She told me how much she liked working their because they had a terrific culture. One example she gave was: “if we make a mistake, no one yells or blames. Instead they will say, OK let’s get you trained better and talk me through what you do not understand or know how to do”.
That was only one of the examples. She also explained that everyone was friendly and supportive and it felt relaxed but very organised. Everyone knew their job, what they had to do and if they were uncertain of anything they knew they could just ask for help. She said: “it really felt like being part of a team and that you were valued and important.”
If that is what it is like to work at an Apple Store and service centre, I imagine it would translate to most of Apple’s enterprise. A Culture of support, team work, professionalism, service and no blame, just train. That seems like a great way to work.
Everyone knows Apple and what they do and their reputation for delivering terrific technology. Their successful brand awareness is not just due to technology.
The people that work at Apple must deliver on the promise for the company to remain a success. A culture of collaborative, team work and no blame is no doubt why Apple remains a success story.
How do these household names create a great Culture and maintain it?
They start by very clearly defining the culture they want to create. They link it to their business, what they do and how they differentiate themselves and make money to thrive.
They plaster it on the walls. Announce it to the world in their mission and vision statements. They don't stop there though.
Culture Code Policy
It requires constant monitoring and maintenance to keep a company culture on track. One of the important ingredients to embedding and maintaining the right culture is by making it a part of the company’s human resources management process. That means making it a company policy.
This policy is also called a ‘Code of Conduct’. It needs to be very clearly written and have a documented procedure for what happens if someone breaches it.
Get everyone aligned to it
Documenting, policy making, and sharing are only the beginning. Everyone must be aligned and in agreement to the Culture for it to work and be maintained.
Every existing employee must be part of it and in agreement with it, or it is just not going to work so well. Get the team involved in creating the culture and everyone will either agree and cooperate or move on. That is a much better result than having to ask people to leave because they do not fit the culture.
There are many good articles on employee engagement such as Why employees at Apple and Google are more productive and this one Employee Engagement.
Hire into it
In the hiring process keep the company culture top of mind and share it with any potential new hires.
Be vigilant about checking whether the person will fit in with the culture or not. Ask them if they it is a good fit for them. Monitor closely during probation to make sure they are a good fit.
Manage by it
If you notice something say something. It is equally important to notice someone acting by the behaviour standards expected in the Culture Code as it is to notice someone not behaving.
As soon as possible after observing someone acting either for or against the expectations it must be commented on.
It is a way of reinforcing positive behaviour and deterring negative by letting it be known, discussing it and what was good or not and what is preferred and why.
It is also much easier, less stressful and difficult to have those conversations when everyone knows what is expected. It is easy to remind and refer to what has been agreed when it is documented and known.
A ‘great place to work’ will thrive far better than a not so great place. Getting the culture right is the foundation.
King Consulting HR created the Five Step Process© for creating a profitable, high performance business with the foundation step of first defining and developing the Culture. If you would like to find out more about this or any of the other services we provide please get in touch.