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Is success killing your workplace culture?

Written by Natalie Lewis on Friday, 08 April 2022. Posted in Leadership, HR, People

Success being the very thing that threatens to destroy a business is a surprising – but common – theme for SMEs.

Is success killing your workplace culture?

Success being the very thing that threatens to destroy a business is a surprising – but common – theme for SMEs

It sounds oxymoronic, but unbridled and unmanaged success has destroyed many businesses. Reports cite the main culprits as unstructured growth (entrepreneur.com) and the failure to create a strong workplace culture (Harvard Business Review). So, what can be done before your wins turn into woes? 

According to Dr Pragya Agarwal, writing for Forbes in 2018: ‘Culture is the environment that surrounds us all the time. A workplace culture is the shared values, belief systems, attitudes and the set of assumptions that people in a workplace share’. 

Pointing to research by Deloitte, which shows that 94% of executives and 88% of employees consider a distinct corporate culture to be important to a business’ success, Dr Argarwal stated: ‘A positive workplace culture improves teamwork, raises the morale, increases productivity and efficiency, and enhances retention of the workforce’.

So, how does success kill a workplace culture?

In 2021, analysis of Companies House data revealed that more than 340,500 businesses were registered in the UK between January and June 2021; however, according to The Telegraph, 20% of those will not make it past the first year and a staggering 60% will go bust within their first three years.

Getting through those turbulent first few years of business can be a struggle. A small team –working closely and alongside the founder – puts in all the hard graft. They know everything that’s going on in the company and they know every single customer. They live and breathe the business. They forge a strong culture. 

Suddenly, things take off and they are swamped with work. There is much celebration. The business goes from counting every penny to being able to invest this extra cash into additional resources. They recruit – and they recruit fast – to be able to fulfil the new work that keeps coming in. 

It’s so tempting for a business owner when they’re tired, stressed and stretched to simply pick a ‘bum on a seat’, but doing so will bring a world of pain in the long run. Culture fit is the glue that holds a business together. 

Without structure and a focus on cultural fit, recruiting the wrong person for the workplace culture; picking a poor performer; or recruiting a great candidate but onboarding them badly can all be destructive. The result of poor culture fit can cost an organisation between 50-60% of the person’s annual salary, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

If a person leaves or they need to be dismissed halfway into a project or process they are involved in, the business loses time, money and continuity. 

Delivery may get sloppy, with clients raising concerns about quality or timing of projects. Internally, that once strong culture is teetering on the edge of becoming toxic. Where once everyone would pull together to resolve a problem, there’s now blame between employees, as well as fear and stress. It's at this stage where, if not managed effectively, success can kill your workplace culture.

So, what can be done?

Start by having a clear picture of the company culture you want to build, as well as how you want your staff, customers and suppliers to act and to be treated. Make sure this ethos is built into all your company processes, procedures and services.

Be sure to put processes in place before you need them. It’s very hard to change things once they are set – particularly in a fast-growth situation when everything is chaotic.

When the time comes, don’t compromise on recruitment. A bad recruit spells trouble. A great candidate with a poor culture fit is a short-term relief, but a bad apple spoils the whole pile!

Only a third of businesses make it through their first three years – falling foul of their own success. To avoid a similar fate, be sure to focus on my four Ps: Picture, Processes, Procedures and People.

About the Author

Natalie Lewis

Natalie Lewis

An experienced HR consultant, Natalie Lewis completed a Master’s degree in Human Resource Management – having previously studied a BSc in Human and Animal Behaviour. She worked for a leading internet hosting company before moving into HR and culture strategy consultancy. Her award-winning agency, Dynamic HR Services Ltd, was founded in 2013. Today, Natalie leads conversations around hybrid working, leadership and culture in tech and digital creative SMEs.

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