Company culture has always been a topic of interest to me, and it should be for business owners everywhere. As Burke Allen, co-founder and CEO of culture agency NovoLogic, says, a great company culture improves essentially every part of a company including profits, cost, stress, waste, time and customer satisfaction.
NovoLogic provides its clients with an outsider perspective, along with products and services, that help shape their company culture. This in turn provides them with the capability to deliver on their consumers’ expectations of their brand. I recently spoke with Burke to hear his thoughts on this relevant topic.
Q: How would you define “company culture?
A: Company culture is the sum of all ideas, thoughts, actions, policies, procedures and employee behaviors. It is not just the dress code, the values or the mission statement painted on the break room wall, though those things might contribute (or distract) from the prevalent culture in the company.
Culture is more than a company picnic; it’s the code of behaviors that establishes norms for things like performance, commitment, and trust. Culture is everything and everything is culture; it’s how you interact with one another, how decisions are made, how you prioritize, how solutions are uncovered and how rewards are determined. Culture prescribes how we behave on the job, whom we hire, who gets promoted and who does not.
Q: Why is it important that business leaders hone in on company culture?
A: Culture is the last remaining differentiator for organizations. As the world shrinks in size due to the rapidity of information about virtually anything and everything being accessible via smart devices, culture is the only thing that can not be cloned, ripped off or downloaded and installed. An organization’s culture is completely unique due to the almost infinite number of variables that make it up. In today’s 21st century you can no longer buy a brand–only a brand promise.
The only way to deliver on that promise is with your company culture. The better your marketing strategy, the better your culture better be; otherwise you will be accelerating your demise due to the broken promises your customers and employees will report on to the world.
Q: What are three common mistakes organizations make when it comes to company culture?
- Treating culture as a benefit. Consider, for instance, trying to “fix” or improve the culture by implementing new break rooms, office furniture or benefits packages. These things can help, but they are only a small fraction of the equation.
- Treating culture as a departmental initiative. Too many companies create a new culture position or make culture a new initiative for the HR department. While having someone focused on the temperature of the culture is good, culture is a direct result of what the very top leadership allows or shapes it to be; the ownership lives there.
- Treating culture as a strategy for your organization to drive profits. While we all know that businesses must have profit to survive, culture cannot be the quick fix to the long-term need. Companies that use culture for monetary reasons are usually instituting “things” that drive activity or engagement. This is like trying to keep a customer by always offering discounts to keep them purchasing your product. If it is simply a transaction, you will find yourself with both your employees and your customers on the auctioning block, leaving for the next company that offers slightly larger, brighter and shinier stuff than you.
Q: What can organizations do to make necessary improvements to their company culture?
A: First, define the culture you want. If you already have your purpose, mission or values defined that is a great start. Now take each of those and make them unambiguous. We find most companies have similar and good ideas about the values they want in their company–honesty, integrity, urgency, humility, etc.–but the problem is that everyone has different ideas about the behaviors that affirm you are being honest, humble, urgent, etc. This is where the problem starts with most companies as they grow. The models (leaders, founders, etc.) get farther removed from the masses of the team. At NovoLogic we call this the law of diminishing influence.
Next, define the actual behaviors that can be seen and measured that support the values you want your culture to be based on. Then communicate them, measure them and reinforce them in every action of the leaders day in and day out. Get rid of those people who are not willing to adopt these behaviors, and create selection processes and models so that when you are recruiting/hiring people they come in with a more natural tendency to display these specific behaviors.
Next, create a shared understanding across the organization of how everything impacts company culture. Everything needs to be thought through with regards to alignment of the culture. When creating a new process or requirement, for example, consider if it aligns and supports the culture, or if it works against it. Similarly, when selecting a new vendor, supplier or partner, do they align and support the culture, or work against it?
Last but not least is measure, refine, measure and refine again. Culture is not something you can establish and forget; it is something that constantly evolves. It is constantly trying to change shape with every new process, tool, location, offering, etc. that is introduced into the ecosystem. The cultures of your markets are constantly changing as well, so you must constantly care for and shape your culture like a master gardener. Otherwise you will wind up with a lot of fast growing weeds that will ultimately determine the path of your organization.
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