Company culture – Why your business can’t survive without it

By Clare Murphy

In an environment of heightened corporate transparency, greater workforce mobility, and severe skills shortages, a company’s culture can be one of the most important factors in attracting and retaining valuable employees. CEOs and top executives who ignore the importance of building and maintaining a positive culture, do so at their own peril. Beyond keeping retaining great employees, having a strong business culture allows for all of your employees to also be invested in your business which pays off for your customers.

When we talk about culture within an organization, we are really talking about ‘the way we do things around here.’ Or, more specifically, ‘the way we do things around here to be accepted and rewarded.’

Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2015 study found that “employee engagement and cultural issues” has become the top challenge around the world. Of the 3,300 business and HR leaders interviewed from 106 countries, an overwhelming 87 percent rated the issue as “important,” with 50 percent citing the problem as “very important” – double the proportion in the previous year’s survey.

Simply put, organizational culture is at the heart of modern business success.

A new landscape

For leaders, in particular CEOs, this means navigating a new “workplace landscape” – one that requires a dramatic change in strategies for leadership, talent, and human resources. In this new landscape, the barriers between work and life have been all but eliminated. Employees are always on – hyperconnected to their jobs through pervasive mobile technology.

Increased levels of transparency have also led to company cultures being available at the click of a button. For example, Netflix’s culture manifesto, Freedom & Responsibility, is a hugely popular online document, garnering more than 12.4 million views. Plenty want to copy it.

For CEOs wanting to establish and build a successful company culture, access to the wisdom of those who have gone before is easier than ever. Here are some of the most salient tips on the topic of organizational culture from today’s most successful and entrepreneurial CEOs and experts. 

Define your business culture

Creating a great culture involves recognizing and embracing shared values, attitudes, standards and beliefs that characterize the goals of the organization. And it’s a good idea to make sure it suits the best people who work at the company while making a positive impression on customers and anyone else associated with the business.

Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, which was named 2014 Company of the Year by Inc. Magazine, said in a presentation to students at Stanford University that the first steps to establishing a culture everyone believes in starts with creating and communicating a clear and consistent vision, and knowing how you’d like everyone, inside and outside, to view the company.

“Having a clear mission, making sure you know that mission, and making sure that mission comes through the company is probably the most important thing you can do for both culture and values.”

Put your people first

Culture-driven companies make their employees a top priority. Wegmans, number seven on Fortune‘s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, reset business goals just to create the jobs and career growth it wants for its people. As the saying goes: “Take care of your people and they will take care of your customers.” Not surprisingly, Google has topped the Fortune list for six straight years.

Everyone from top to bottom should feel they own an important piece of the process in order for the organization’s overall goals to be achieved. They should see that their job and the way it is performed, makes a difference.

 Support professional development

An increasing number of CEOs are recognizing that incentives that improve work-life balance, or encourage professional development, are integral to the culture of an organization, and are also a means to retaining staff. 

Many organizations offer employees health insurance, gym memberships, and paid parental leave, but some CEOs, such as Starbucks’ Howard Schultz, have gone one step further to embed their culture of supporting their employees’ continual learning.

Schultz developed a relationship with Arizona State University in 2014 to enable his employees to access 40 online degree programs at greatly reduced fees. The supportive gesture was aimed at not only increasing performance, but also attracting and retaining quality staff. 

Recruit with your individual culture in mind 

Zappos, an online shoe and accessories success story with more than $2 billion in annual sales, is consistently rated one of the best US companies to work for.

CEO Tony Hsieh is known for his high-spirited approach and for recognizing the importance of a clear and positive culture. Zappos has a clear set of 10 company values, including “Deliver WOW through service”. During the recruitment process, Zappos conducts a cultural fit interview, which involves asking the candidate questions about each of the company’s 10 core values. 

During the Zappos startup phase, Hsieh and his business partner interviewed every applicant to protect the culture and ensure the right people were hired. At some point, this became untenable, but Hsieh’s theory was that those people who were hired by the CEO will go on to hire people who share the CEO’s vision.

 “Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own,” says Hsieh.

Flexibility

Returning to the results of the Deloitte study, today’s workforce and its demands for heightened cultural awareness is almost certainly influenced by its changing demographic. Gen Yers, who now make up more than half the workforce, are placing a new set of demands on CEOs and organizations. They expect professional development, work-life balance, access to the latest technology, and flexible working conditions.

A company whose culture genuinely embraces a flexible approach is likely to attract and retain this new generation of talent.