What is company culture?
Company culture is a term used to describe the attitudes of a business, the way it behaves and how it treats its employees.
This concept – which is also called corporate culture, workplace culture or organisational culture – is based on shared beliefs, standards, values, attitudes and behaviour that permeate the organisation.
The idea has grown in popularity in recent years, helped in part by well-known organisations such as Google and Netflix embracing the concept. It steers the way your employees behave, treat one another and go about their day-to-day work.
What defines a company’s culture?
Because there is no single definition of company culture, its application can vary between businesses.
The basics can be defined in writing, via a mission statement, but many aspects of company culture are not quantitative. Some of it is based on unwritten rules.
The culture is a framework, and those who follow it learn how it naturally applies to different situations. If your business’s culture is strongly instilled into your workforce, you’ll find that your employees’ behaviour is instinctive, with the culture becoming adaptable and easily applied to new situations and changing business practices.
Why is company culture important?
It’s a mutually beneficial scenario – staff feel closer to their employers, and businesses end up with more committed employees.
Company culture is firmly linked to employee engagement, which itself has a large impact on employee retention rates. If your company’s culture is a good one and employees buy into it, you’ll have a happier workforce with fewer employees looking to move on.
And your future potential employees will know about it, too. It’s much easier today to find out what it’s like to work at any particular business – Facebook, LinkedIn, Glassdoor and Twitter have made that the case. A business that has good employee engagement based on a positive culture is going to look like a more attractive place to work.
Think of it as being part of your ongoing recruitment process. Having a strong culture with engaged and happy employees means you’ll continue to attract high-quality applicants when you need to hire.
On the flipside, not having a good company culture can hurt you. A matter of years ago, gossip was passed around at the proverbial watercooler, or perhaps after work over a drink. Today, social media means that when something goes wrong, it can be made very public within seconds. The behaviour of your business’s leaders and employees at every level can be displayed for the whole world to see.
Some brands have been ruined by bad publicity. And while you can’t 100 per cent guarantee that it won’t happen at your business, cultivating and adhering to an organisation-wide culture can help cut the chances of that happening.
How the HR Team develops the company culture
The HR Team is responsible for making sure that company culture is embraced and acted on throughout the organisation. Working closely with the people at the top of the business – first to help draw up what the culture should be, and then to help them plan their operations within that framework.
For example, if part of the culture is that all employees should have a good work/life balance, you need to make sure there aren’t departments that are so understaffed that your employees are clocking off late every night because they can’t complete their tasks during their regular hours.
Or if one of the key components of your company culture is that the organisation listens to staff, you need to make sure it does. Are there established mechanisms that allow employees to deliver constructive feedback? Can they do so without fear of reprisal? Can you show that their feedback has been acted on?
In other words, once you have defined what the culture is, you need to make sure that the framework of your business allows that culture to thrive.
It’s also important that the Leadership Team has fully bought into the idea and don’t see it as being just a tick-box exercise. Failure on their part to adopt it will lead to accusations of double standards. There will be cynicism elsewhere within the business, and all your hard work will have been wasted.
Communicate across the business
When it comes to communicating your culture across the business, make it a two-way street.
Ask your employees what values they hold dear. Show them that the culture isn’t about dictating to people but about creating an environment in which they feel comfortable.
Use focus groups and staff forums, and allow your employees to speak freely. Ask them if they understand what the business’s values are, and if they think they are being followed. If not, why not?
And are their managers embracing the culture? Do they even understand it?
Training and feedback is crucial for everyone, including the managers. It’s not just about adding a touchy-feely slogan to your marketing material. It’s about giving everyone the tools to be able to carry out their work within the framework of the culture.
Make it a part of the hiring process
Rather than hiring people with tremendous skills and then trying to shoehorn them into adopting your culture, try to assess their personality during the recruitment process. Hiring people who fit in is likely to result in higher performance.
When you are recruiting, make sure some of the interview is based around the values that make up your culture. Don’t use direct questions; you can simply steer the conversation around to asking the candidate what they feel makes for a happy and productive workplace. An answer such as “being left alone to do my job in the way I see fit” might be a perfect answer for some businesses but completely unacceptable to others.
Once you have taken on a new employee, the company culture should be a core part of any induction process. They should understand exactly what the culture is, how it can help them, and how they can thrive within it.