If you can’t see it or touch it, then how do you create a company culture?

From encouraging diversity to championing transparency, culture is the glue that ties your business together

If you can’t see it or touch it

These days, social media is awash with employees applauding their companies’ innovative, inclusive or creative cultures and bosses proudly sharing their corporate values.

With such a tremendous amount of noise, you’d think culture was the most well-understood tool in any business strategy. But in reality, it’s a strange beast. Given that business owners normally deal with data, numbers and facts, why are they so quick to embrace something both intangible and ethereal?

Culture is the shared attitudes, values and beliefs that, together, create a business’s identity. It impacts how customers interact with and read a business as well as how a team functions.

Culture is constantly shifting and, as many will attest, it can just as easily be healthy and thriving as being sour and toxic if neglected. Research by Randstad US in 2018 found that 38% of workers want to leave their jobs due to toxic work culture or one where they feel like they don’t ‘fit in’.

There is a consensus regarding its importance. Management guru and author Peter Drucker said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. And more than eight in ten CEOs and HR leaders believe culture gives businesses a potential competitive advantage, according to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends survey, which also revealed that culture is not well-understood. Less than three in ten of the CEOs and HR leaders surveyed believe they understand their culture well, while 19% believe they have the right culture.

Here are four things that shape business culture, but which may go unnoticed.

(1) Diversity

Culture needs people. And when a hiring policy actively promotes and embraces diversity, culture is enriched. I’ve learnt first hand that when you put people from different backgrounds and with different experiences on the same team – and give them the space and tools to collaborate – creativity and innovation blossom.

Even in 2019, companies still need to make their commitment to diversity obvious, in their hiring policy, on their website and social media, during onboarding and beyond. 

Research from McKinsey found companies in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. It also found that, in the UK, greater gender diversity on a senior team corresponded to the highest performance uplift in its data set: for every 10% increase in gender diversity, EBIT rose by 3.5%.

(2) Democracy

How a team works impacts culture. Agile businesses are all about developing a flexible approach to work by empowering self-organised teams to monitor themselves, support one another and work fluidly.

Product development decisions are made democratically by teams and not by leaders and that method is replicated in the way we make business decisions too. When unlimited annual leave was raised as a possible benefit, we put it to a vote. The team decided against because they agreed encouraging everyone to take their full allowance would be healthier than a system where some would inevitably take very little time off.

Now, instead of having leaders push ideas, our employees feel free to put forward their own. Our staff can perform knowing they can affect real change.

(3) Transparency 

Values alone are meaningless. US energy company Enron, believe it or not, had a now infamous code of ethics that listed respect, integrity, communication and excellence as its values. This didn’t pan out well when the company became embroiled in what is seen as one of the biggest auditing scandals of our time. The company was proven to have hidden lots of losses from failed deals. In the end, some executives ended up in prison. If the top brass doesn’t live by the code they set, it will rot the company from top to bottom. 

Employees need to understand the goals, strategy, and purpose of their work if they are to share in its successes. But transparency can go further to making employees privy to the financials. Offering a safe forum in which to share ideas and offer feedback is critical in making sure that the culture you are trying to create is matching up with the reality. 

(4) Communication 

Values and principles need to be continuously communicated to have any effect.

Today, businesses are using company-wide social media feeds to transform traditional internal communications like printed staff newsletters, or barely-read round-robin emails, into dynamic, interactive experiences that really engage.

Video content, webinars and rolling company news updates within a company-wide feed are becoming more widespread, particularly in international businesses that want to bring employees together virtually in different offices or branches.

In my experience, the biggest barrier to businesses adopting internal social media technology is the fear that it will be a staging ground for inappropriate discussion. But employees who feel trusted and supported are intelligent enough to use them with care. 

And, anyway, with anonymous sites like Glassdoor and social media at their fingertips, a disgruntled employee would be able to find better platforms to air their grievances than their company’s private feed.

The introduction of internal social media is a cultural shift, as much as an operational one, and if transparency is to be an important part of company culture, then this is a good way to prove it. 

Nigel Davies
Nigel Davies

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