So said a senior executive to me at a former employer of mine. I took it as a challenge: he’d laid down the gauntlet, I wanted to be able to define it.
Because I’d been brought in to the business in a newly formed Head of Talent role. It was my job to devise and implement a strategy to attract, develop and retain great people who would deliver on their vision and goals. Being able to articulate what it was like to work there, elevating everything that made the organisation great, breaking down barriers to engagement and identifying what else was needed to supercharge performance was central to my role.
Great candidates for jobs want to know ‘What’s the culture like there?’ because they’re interested in what life will be like beyond the description of the role. And a poor culture can lead to increased attrition - a 2019 study showed that almost 60% of employees leave due to unhealthy cultures – so focusing on culture really mattered to me.
But it wasn’t just important for my role, it was important for the entire business, particularly those in leadership positions. More than ever, the C-suite, founders, business leaders and investors all over the world are acknowledging the key role that culture has to play in contributing to business success.
Research from the National Bureau of Economics in 2018 showed that 9 out of 10 CEOs and CFOs believe that improving corporate culture would increase their company’s value, with almost 80% ranking culture among the five most important factors driving their company’s valuation. It’s possible that the events of 2020 and how employers have been seen to respond to their workforce will have an even greater impact on business success. Future candidates for jobs will ask ‘How did you treat your staff during the pandemic?’
So what does company culture mean then? Culture is a set of behavioural norms and unwritten rules that shape the environment and how individuals interact and get work done. It’s about how it feels to work in your company, what it’s like, what people say about working there, the stories they tell…
Sorry folks, it isn’t the free beers and ping pong tables (or virtual tournaments). It isn’t even the wellbeing apps or additional time off you might be introducing.
Sure, these things can be well received and will certainly look good on your website, but culture at work speaks to a deeper connection with the people that work there. A great culture is one where leadership and management is trusted, where employees feel that they belong, they can be themselves and that they are valued. It’s a place where innovation is encouraged, where there is clear evidence of fair treatment and a genuine care for the workforce.
If you’re a leader – whether that’s of a team, a function or an entire business - the chances are that right now, you can spot some of these things in your organisation, but perhaps not all of them. You might find that there are behaviours and habits that you’ve gotten into that actively conflict with the kind of team or company that you’d like to think you work for. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
If you want to really capitalise on your biggest expense – and we all know that staffing and associated costs is the biggest line in your budget – then you need to invest some time and energy (and probably some money) into actively shaping and developing your culture. Hire to it and fire to it. Be true to it. Let it live and breathe and evolve. Just don’t think it’s “the fluffy stuff”.
P.S. I was able to define and develop the culture in that organisation and there was much about it that was wonderful and is still talked about today by past and present employees.
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