Company culture isn’t just about motivational phrases on laminated posters in the break room, and it’s not just the core values around which you want to operate. Rather, company culture is a combination of all those things. As written in an article for Strategy+Business, “A company’s culture is its basic personality, the essence of how its people interact and work … Culture is the self-sustaining pattern of behavior that determines how things are done.”
Companies with bad culture generally don’t last long; if they do, its with a black cloud over their name. Some internet service providers have a reputation for terrible customer service, which stems directly from a business model designed not to deliver the best internet possible, but to generate as much profit as possible.
Of course the goal of business is profit generation, but companies that make money by solving problems – instead of selling solutions – are the most successful. Numerous studies support this claim, and as Bruce Upbin wrote for Forbes, “Delivering on meaning also helps build more substantial relationships with customers.”
Establishing company values and striving to work within those limits isn’t just upper-management lip service aimed at making employees feel good about their jobs. A good corporate culture permeates the actions of everyone within a company, manifesting itself most notably in reputation. Brands like Apple, Amazon, and Spotify come to mind when thinking about businesses that excel at internalizing their culture.
That train of thought raises an interesting question for up-and-coming businesses: how is it possible to establish that kind of winning culture when you expand to sell domestically and internationally?
Work With What You Have
The article from Strategy+Business contains another great point about managing culture – you have to work with what you currently have.
The article reads, “Deeply embedded cultures cannot be replaced with simple upgrades, or even with major overhaul efforts. Nor can your culture be swapped out for a new one as though it were an operating system … To a degree, your current cultural situation just is what it is – and it contains components that provide natural advantages.”
This insight isn’t meant to discourage you from thinking you can’t make lasting change; rather, it’s to remind you that, as Susan M. Heathfield wrote for The Balance, “Before an organization can change its culture, it must first understand the current culture.”
Before focusing on managing or changing your company culture, you need to know your existing culture inside and out.
ERE Media recommends the following to help you better understand your current culture:
- Evaluating your current performance
- Clarifying your initial vision
- Clarifying expected behaviors
- Clarifying values
Lead by Example
Once you have a grasp on your current culture and how you’d like to change it, the real work begins. To make lasting change, you have to make the change yourself and set the example for everyone else in your company.
In a feature for the Harvard Business Review, Tom DiDonato and Noelle Gill of Lear Corporation wrote about the culture change their company underwent after the Great Recession. Their cultural changes started at the highest management levels because, “Showing vulnerability … was key to getting people to take the change seriously … I’ll never forget our CEO … getting up in front of dozens of managers and saying, in essence, ‘I’ve violated several … model behaviors myself in the past. I’ve started to get better, but I still have a lot of work to do.”
As long as you’re willing to adhere to the same values and behaviors you expect from the rest of your company, you’ll be able to implement successful cultural change. Sincerity – as mentioned in the example from Lear – goes a long way in convincing employees to make the necessary changes to improve company culture.
Don’t Change Too Much
A cultural change shouldn’t change the very core of your brand; instead, a culture shift should highlight the existing good qualities of your company.
A growing company like Cariloha, for example, wouldn’t continue to succeed if they changed their entire culture so much so that they quit feeling like the company they currently are. Cariloha operates within the apparel industry, creating clothing, bedding and bath goods sourced from renewable bamboo. Their laid-back, island-leisure attitude is part of their appeal. If that attitude changed – because of a culture shift that focused more on selling and less on caring for their customers’ needs and showcasing their bamboo-based products – it’s a safe bet to assume their sales would drop significantly.
Company culture is a difficult thing to pin down at once. It really is the combination of all the personalities within your business, combined with the goal of your business itself. If any of those aspects aren’t in line with your vision and goals, then either the personalities or goals must change.