Every company likes to think they have a great culture but if you ask each member of the leadership team to sum theirs up, most will give vague, airy answers that don’t match.
This is because most companies don’t actually have a uniting culture. Often in the corporate world you get an amalgamation of cultures or distinct cultures that coexist. It’s hard to have a well-defined culture in a large company because rapid growth, mergers and generational gaps result in invisible walls being erected within the organisation.
Culture is easily defined in smaller companies as founders, CEOs and early employees create that culture as a means of moving forward, making decisions and driving growth – but this can easily dilute or evolve in different strands. Culture is like a mirror reflecting the personalities of the group and when a company gets to the point where it’s not just impractical but nigh on impossible to know the names of every employee that mirror fragments.
The problem is no-one seems to notice and over time the company comes to accept or even believe that their mosaic mirror is just how things are supposed to be. In short, they give up trying to build a culture and whether they are successful or not, it’s holding them back from achieving their full potential. So where to start?
Respect and nurture it
Culture must be built with the same diligence afforded to products or services. It needs nurturing, it can’t just be left to its own devices. The benefit of crafting this new, defined culture is enhanced communication, a group-wide structure for decision-making and a framework that gets everyone pulling in the same direction.
Culture of leadership
In the halcyon days of the company’s inception the culture came from the founders and this is where it must start again. Culture is set and shaped by leadership so they must embody the culture they want to create. Senior management must project the culture even if it is a change from how they’ve worked for years. Everyone must pull in the same direction; it might be hard to start but there can be no turning back to the old ways.
Structure of motivation
One of the best motivational tools is to show your employees they are valued. This is where you need to really hone in on the structure of the business. Culture is driven by structure so the hierarchy must respect and reflect the way you want to operate. Each department should have a direct link to the board – small teams with six degrees of separation from the board are just going to feel unimportant and that’s not good for business. Value your employees and give them clear and direct lines to the decision makers. Go one better and make them part of the defining of the culture; ask them what they like about the company culture as it is and what they’d like to change. Use their ideas: they probably know a lot more about productive process than the board does.
Involving your employees, and truly valuing their opinions and insight, is a cornerstone of a motivational culture. It won’t guarantee all of your employees will be happy and motivated but at the very least it will create an environment that identifies and solves problems before they snowball.
Most importantly, you must communicate your culture. Continuously, explicitly and unapologetically. It must encompass all lest it become a hollow statement. You have to feed it into every aspect of your business so your employees absorb it fully, understand its importance and naturally project it. The employees that excel at this must be rewarded.
To keep the burgeoning culture on track and senior management leading from the front you need to appoint a Culture Tsar – a champion and standard setter for culture constantly communicating your culture goals. It’s important it’s not just a ceremonial position – culture has to be taken seriously and someone needs to be recognisably responsible for it. They’ll need a deputy or two as well. These are the people who will sit in on interview panels and push your recruitment in the right direction. Not only does it ensure you get the right cultural fit when hiring but it shows potential employees how serious you are about culture and that’s impressive to people who take their career seriously.
As your company grows and faces new challenges your culture will help maintain success and adapt seamlessly to an ever-changing business environment. Over time your culture will be second nature and you can be comforted in the knowledge that even if you don’t know all of their names, you know all of your employees.
About the author
Maria Bellissimo-Magrin is the CEO of full-service creative marketing agency Belgrin. She previously wrote What a 90s advert reveals about business today, How can SMBs get the most out of LinkedIn?, Virtual reality revolution: time to get ahead, why potential customers ignore your ads and Rebranding: when to take the leap?