How Important is Company Culture?

The word culture is used so often in organizations but often the individuals that speak of it don’t even understand what it means. I was speaking with a CEO of an ILEC in Illinois and asked him specifically about the culture of the environment he managed. His answer was,” we are all about working hard and making money”. I dug a little deeper and it really was not tied to any mechanism or values, no repeatable behavior or behavioral similarities. No guiding light that was pulling them to success.

Culture is important, it is key to a company creating a successful model with happy employees that deliver. But what is it? I wanted a definition that I could hold on to, that I could say this is it. This is culture! I looked back at text books, some of my current readings, I questioned thought leaders, and then I questioned myself. Here is what I came up with, “Culture is a system of shared values and beliefs that govern how people engage with each other to achieve results”.

Now that I defined it, I wanted to identify the influences that foster and hinder culture. There are so many items that influence a company culture but here are a few that I felt stand out.

 

  • The company’s history plays a huge role in culture, what precedence you have set in your behavior, your leadership style, the individuals that you have working for you. Without examining the past, we are missing a vital portion of the truth. Leaders who have a sophisticated grasp on the past have a unique advantage in controlling the future.
  • The company’s vision must be defined and as a result of that vision, the company must define its core values. These are the guiding principles that dictate behavior.   It is the theme of how we get things done, not just that they get done.
  • The most dynamic influencer is Leadership, it can make or break a culture through its actions, behaviors, words and influences. Leadership must live and breathe the culture, the values and the vision. A dishonest or unethical leader can destroy the culture and the company.
  • The people you hire also play a key role, they have to get the culture, agree with the culture and commit to fostering the culture. They have to wear it like a standard. You should only hire individuals that bare that standard.
  • The strategy that is developed must align with the culture and the culture must be the first thought when establishing it, often it is an afterthought. This has a tendency to make the culture suffer.
  • Accountability is a cultural trait that leads to results as individuals that are accountable to each other, the culture, the company and themselves are generally very successful individuals. These are the people you want to nurture and grow in your organization.

Culture it volatile when left unattended, it can be broken and harmful without proper care. Culture can also take a negative theme if allowed. Culture must be cultivated, nurtured and cared for, the nature of change in a culture tends to be slow as sometimes recent history can seem to be reality.

To keep it a strong, positive culture leadership and individuals alike must own the mechanism. It has to be based off core values that each individual believes in and functions with. It has to be coached and redirected at times. When this occurs, you begin to see similar behaviors start to be exhibited and repeatable behaviors become commonplace. It becomes a guide that drives you toward results, but it takes putting in the work.

In summary, learn from your history and repeat what works. Ensure every aspect of leadership champion the culture and exhibit behavior that supports the culture. Establish a common vision with core values that support the behavior that you want to drive. Hire, fire, coach, correct and reward based on those values. Celebrate successes as a product of culture. Give your individuals these tools and allow them to resolve the company’s issues and encourage them to be accountable to each other. From TOP TO BOTTOM, accountability is key; culture is everyone’s responsibility.

 

-Robert Martin