Why do some people want to desperately work for some businesses and avoid others like the plague? Mostly it can be put down to culture or the managers’ reputation. But how do you make or create a culture? Why would you bother? My thinking is that if more businesses focused on their cultural strategy, many of the other metrics such as performance, productivity, attrition and engagement would increase as a result.
Recent research shows categorically that employees want to work for authentic leaders. So what does this mean? Is it as simple as being a decent human being? No, I am afraid not – as the authentic leader also needs to be coupled with an authentic organisation. The good news is that as an entrepreneur or small business owner, you can determine the culture of your organisation.
So how can you do this? You can break it down into these six key cultural factors:
1. Vision: A great culture starts with a vision or mission statement. These phrases guide a company’s values and provide it with purpose. That purpose in turn, orientates every decision employees make. When they are deeply authentic and prominently displayed, good vision statements can even help orient customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. A vision statement is a simple but fundamental element of culture.
2. Values: A company’s values are the core of its culture. While a vision articulates a company’s purpose, values offer a set of guidelines on the behaviours and mindsets needed to achieve that vision.
3. Practices: Values are of little importance unless they are enshrined in a company’s practices. If a business professes, ‘people are our greatest asset’, it should also be ready to invest in people in visible ways. Whatever the company’s values, they must be reinforced in review criteria and promotion policies, and fully lived and incorporated into the operating principles of daily life in the business.
4. People: No company can build a coherent culture without people who either share its core values or possess the willingness and ability to embrace those values. That’s why the greatest firms in the world also have some of the most stringent recruiting policies. One study found applicants who were a cultural fit would accept a 7% lower salary and departments with cultural alignment had 30% less turnover. People stick with cultures they like and bringing on the right culture carriers reinforces the culture a business already has.
5. Narrative: Any company has a unique history — a unique story. And the ability to unearth that history and craft it into a narrative is a core element of culture creation. The elements of that narrative can be formal — like Coca-Cola, which dedicated an enormous resource to celebrating its heritage and even has a World of Coke museum in Atlanta — or informal, like those stories about how Steve Jobs’ early fascination with calligraphy shaped the aesthetically oriented culture at Apple. But they are more powerful when identified, shaped, and retold as a part of a firm’s ongoing culture.
6. Place: Why does Pixar have a huge open atrium engineering an environment where business members run into each other throughout the day and interact in informal, unplanned ways? And why do tech firms cluster in Silicon Valley and financial firms cluster in London and New York? There are obviously numerous answers to each of these questions, but one clear one is that place shapes culture. Open architecture is more conducive to certain office behaviours, like collaboration. Place — whether geography, architecture, or aesthetic design, impacts the values and behaviours of people in a workplace.
There are other factors that influence culture. But these six components can provide a firm foundation for shaping a new organisation’s culture. Identifying and understanding them more fully in an existing organisation can be the first step to revitalising or reshaping the inherent culture in a company looking for change.