How to transform culture into more than a buzzword


What does a unicorn look like? Forget rainbows and pointy foreheads, a unicorn is someone who will positively transform your business from the inside out through their connection to the people around them and the dynamic they bring to the team. They are not just competent at their job, they enhance their colleagues’ abilities too. When you have a herd of unicorns, you’ll have an excellent company culture.

The idea of culture as a driver for business has become a buzzword of late and, as a result, there is understandable scepticism with regard to whether culture can really make a difference. Unfortunately ‘culture’ has been largely misrepresented by brands that oversell through hipster tactics, promoting fun activities like ping pong and trampolining as an example of their culture. We’re big fans of the table tennis tournament, but we don’t delude ourselves that this is the extent of company culture. Office games provide an escape for staff and a plenty of opportunities for your team to bond, but you’re not hiring someone for their game-winning backhand flick.

Defining culture

The thing about culture is it’s unique to every business. But there are a few principles at the core of a good work culture. Primarily, culture needs to be inclusive,it needs to come from the people within your organisation. Therefore, it must be founded on mutual respect from the very first day. Richard Branson says: “There’s no magic formula for great company culture. They key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.”

By giving staff the space to voice issues without fear of being shot down and allowing them to make their own informed decisions, you can cultivate an environment that allows everyone to flourish. It is the way your staff interact, how they’re treated and how they treat each other—the values they represent and practise every day. Culture is what makes a company unique and makes people want to work there.

Seeking unicorns

For many businesses the idea of building a culture like this is theoretical. That’s because they come under pressure when they’re growing and tend to rush into hiring decisions. If you’ve ever heard the saying ‘people leave managers, not companies’, know it to be true: a toxic work environment will overrun any talent you have in the team and even have a negative effect on your business. One wrong hire canbreak a company, lowering everyone else’s morale and affecting the productivity and overall growth of the company if their values don’t align with the company’s.

In my agency, we invest time looking for unicorns. If having the wrong person in the job can have disastrous effects on your team and business, imagine what having the right one can do. While a long search can put stress on the business and its finances, finding a unicorn is worth the effort for the net positive effect well into the future.Playing the long game is far more sustainable and generates better results for your business.

Growing the herd

If you’ve hired a unicorn, don’t expect them to generate all the magic. That’s not how unicorns work in the business world. Unicorns are herd animals; growth doesn’t come from just one person. In a startup it’s very easy to peg all your hopes and dreams on a unicorn you’ve hired, because each person makes up a large percentage of a small team. To scale effectively, however, you need more unicorns to sustain that success and snowball it. Culture binds multiple individuals so they feel comfortable putting their heads together to share their thoughts and ideas, creating something greater than any individual alone, however brilliant they may be.

In just over two years I built my agency up to a team of 22 and annual revenue of $4 million. This would not have happened at the speed it did without recognising that people in an organisation play a critical part in whether it succeeds or fails. Knowing how each additional person affects the dynamic and adds to culture is the key to building a team that not only works together, but plays together—and succeeds together.


Robert Tadros is the Managing Director and founder of Impress!ve Digital, one of Australia’s fastest growing digital marketing agencies specialising in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Facebook Advertising and Search Engine Marketing (SEM).