Your Culture Will Make or Break Your Business

Failures of culture from Wells Fargo to Volkswagen have been the single biggest destroyers of value in the last five years.

Every CEO and HR professional knows (or at least says) that culture is a priority, but for far too long management has had only a blunt set of instruments to deal with cultural issues: fire the offensive engineer, swap in new leaders, overhaul the board and hope for the best.

Today, we are offered finely tuned instruments, systems, and processes that get to the root of cultural issues, and can make real, quantifiable change at scale. And while this is an investment, it’s a worthwhile one.

Here are the three reasons why work culture matters, and it matters now more than ever:

1. The internal is now external

In the 1980s, management scholars coined the term “corporate culture,” noting that companies tended to be more alike in beliefs, values and behavioural patterns than society in general. Corporate culture came to mean how the organisation achieves its goals, from the ethos of the corner office to the treatment of individual employees.

But that “culture” lived exclusively inside the company’s walls.

Those days are over. Now, Glassdoor lets any employee publicly rate their CEO, LinkedIn allows your competitors to ransack and pillage your top talent, and news outlets regularly publish stories exposing the internal workings of corporations.

Consumers have always followed the brands they love. But,  they are increasingly making financial statements with their buying behaviour.

2. The data on culture show a real economic impact

Some companies see a clear financial return to investing in a healthy culture. To make organizational change easier, they will send people small, scientifically-backed suggestions and reminders called nudges. When they’ve nudged employees about how to build a better culture, they’ve seen employee retention intention, happiness, and the belief that leadership is taking action on good feedback all go up.

At companies with great cultures, employees understand the broader impact of their work. Culture done right can improve productivity by 10%, 20%, and maybe even more. One tangible example: Google designed a nudge to help new hires get settled. That single intervention was worth 2% productivity—or about $400 million per year at the time. Not a bad ROI on a cultural intervention.

3. People’s technology has advanced enough to help

For the first time, leaders can know what’s going on in a way that’s not filtered by perception, but by data that they can trust. And we can finally stop trusting our guts on people issues; bias-riddled gut decisions are to blame for so many markers of an unhealthy culture: discrimination, bad bosses, and ineffective workers.

The union of computer science, people science, and a strong foundation in ethics and privacy, can help leaders make measurably better, more fair decisions. And organisations that leverage these advances are seeing the kinds that we’ve all hoped for decades.

So what should we do now? What can you do today to set your team on a path of more innovation, more trust, and more meaning? Actions start here:

  • Invest in culture. The most successful cultures are based on what researchers call companionate love. That means treating people with respect. It means including individuals whose backgrounds may be wildly different from your own. It means hearing out an idea that you hadn’t thought of—or might buck the status quo that you so carefully built.
  • Invest differently. Poorly executed engagement surveys and training sessions are ineffective—and even detrimental. Scrap programs if you don’t have evidence that they work, and invest in new technologies that promise transformation. But dump those too if they don’t deliver! Keep going until you find tools and processes that you can prove work.
  • Finally, say thank you. Consider this a nudge from me to you: tell someone how grateful you are that they took something annoying off of your plate, stepped up when you needed them, or just made work a little better. Whatever it is, be as specific as possible. It might feel small, but this tiny nudge towards gratitude is incredibly powerful. It will ripple throughout your organisation. And it will make work better for you and for the people around you.

Because that’s what it’s all about.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn here

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