In the noughties, a bunch of smart guys published books about how organisations with strong company cultures heavily outperform those without. At the time they bordered on maverick.
Now, of course, the evidence in favour of the theory is manifold, and pretty much every leader is keen to create a successful culture of their own.
For brands like Zappos and Red Bull, culture is the ultimate talent attraction tool – not only as a point of differentiation against competition, but also as a means of filtering out those unsuited to their organisations. For these brands’ employees, the culture is the driving force of their motivation and performance.
Employers can no longer assume their employees are, to quote every losing contestant on The Apprentice, ‘grateful for the the opportunity’. Now it’s the employer’s turn to be grateful, and to create working environments that help people to succeed for the duration of time they decide to stick around.
Here are a few pointers to help you build a culture to support that environment.
Before launching into any bean bag shaped initiatives, it’s a good idea to gauge the pulse of your existing culture. Observe the day-to-day life of your workplace, and ask yourself the following questions:
Once you’ve had your fill of observing, go and talk to your employees. Invite a few of them in for a focus group type thing (don’t call it a focus group) to discuss the finer points of your company culture. It’s a difficult concept to articulate, so questions should be indirect – this will help to build a fuller, less bias view of the state of your culture. Ask questions along the lines of:
A mission can determine the success or failure of an organisation. It’s what adds purpose to all your business’ pursuits, and helps marshal employees to achieve a common goal. The best are original, positive and inspirational. Here are some examples:
Pull together champions from each department of your organisation to craft a pithy one-liner that expresses exactly what your organisation is trying to achieve. Try to use plain English, and avoid industry jargon or cliché. It can be as ambitious as you desire, as long as it’s plausible.
If your mission is your North Star, company values are the tools that will get you there. Defining a unique set of principles that will guide everything you do is a critical step in creating a successful culture.
Zappos is an online shoe and clothing shop famed for its thriving company culture. Within the company, every HR and management systems – employee job descriptions, hiring processes, training opportunities and so on – is underpinned by a set of 10 core values that reinforce their culture:
While these are unique to Zappos, the below examples are stable values that you could steal for your organisation. Whichever you choose should reflect what’s important to your organisation, and what employees should expect from the environment.
This is why the best businesses often have the most rigorous recruitment policies. They realise that the perfect candidate possesses far more than the hard skills required to do the job, they also have the right character traits, attitudes – even sense of humour.
The leader then becomes less a decision maker and more an enabler. Don’t try to show how clever you are, try to show how clever your people are. Focus on building great leaders among your people.
People hang around at cultures they like, so while the fanatical recruitment processes pose hurdles, it’s worth it when it comes to the savings on recruitment and retention alone, not to mention boosted productivity and performance.
In a recent study of ours, two thirds (66%) of UK employees agreed that regular personalised benefits would be appreciated as recognition for their loyalty and personal investment. Our sample of 2000 UK workers agreed that career development opportunities and relaxed working hours are among the perks that would drive a happier company culture.
The simplest way about this is to ask your employees which perks they would like to receive.
This also works on a recruitment level. Before hiring a candidate, research their demographics to find out what motivates them in the way of perks. It’s a broad stroke of the brush, but millennials are consistently proven to value work-life balance and development opportunities unlike older cohorts (generation X and Baby Boomers) whom value the salary and more traditional benefits.
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