Getting Culture Right is Key to Modern Success

Many companies start out being exceptional. But as they grow, there is a dark, powerful force that pulls them towards average. While many things can cause this, one of the most overlooked is an organization’s attention, or lack thereof, to fostering positive culture.

Whether you like it or not, organizations have a culture -- a shared set of values and beliefs that help define the way that employees think and act at work. So, rather than letting it fall to the wayside, why not make it one you love? 

Setting Employees Up for Success

A great culture ultimately allows people to deliver their best work. It also helps build a company of great people. Think of the analogy: culture is to recruiting, as product is to marketing. Just as customers are more easily attracted with a great product, talent is more easily attracted with a strong culture. And at the end of the day, a company’s culture is often the deciding factor for prospective employees as well as current employees who may be considering other opportunities.

It’s no secret that people have dramatically changed how they live and work. Things that were once top of mind for employees like pensions, good bosses, 9 to 5 workdays, office location and the expectation to work in one place for an entire career have been replaced by modern concerns like purpose-driven work, great colleagues, and the ability to work whenever, wherever and for however long.

Culture Shouldn't Be An Afterthought

Despite this switch, many organizations still operate as if money is what matters most and amazing people are happy to just have a job. Don’t get me wrong -- paychecks matter -- but purpose and the people that we work with matter more. It sounds simple, but companies need to focus on cultivating a culture that helps its employees and the company itself achieve their ambitions. Some keys to making that happen include:

  • Always solve for the customer: It’s better to obsess over customers, their happiness and their success rather than over competitors
  • Treat culture as a competitive advantage, not an afterthought: Thinking about and planning for culture is just as important and thinking about and planning for your products
  • Evaluate your culture on actions, not words: Culture is about how you behave, not about who you want to be. Walking the walk is much more important than talking the talk
  • Hire for culture fit, not to fill a gap: Be unreasonably picky while hiring

Compromising on culture is mortgaging the future. It’s reasonable to want to hire for skills and experience when the need for help is painfully acute. But it’s also wrong. You must understand that what may be a great short-term fix can be detrimental to the long-term effects on the culture of a team or entire organization.

It can also be tempting to bring in people that you can push work on that you don’t have time for. Resist that urge. Instead, always hire to elevate. You will always benefit from bringing people in that can teach you something. Encourage all employees to continually learn and invest in increasing their individual market value.

Remarkable outcomes rarely come from modest risk, and cultivating culture is no different. But awareness and a commitment to its growth is the first and most important step. Embrace simplicity and look out for the inevitable instances where complexity will creep in. Address those moments immediately -- remembering that you cannot add simplicity in, you must take complexity out -- before it becomes a cancer in your organization.

Title image by Valerie Everett (Flickr) via a CC BY-SA 2.0 license