As a leader and people manager, I am fascinated by the culture of successful companies. I was lucky enough to read Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” fairly early in my career, which looked at 1,435 companies, and found that the most important ingredient in companies that truly thrived was a strong corporate culture. This was not just a “nice to have”, it had a fundamental effect on the bottom line, with the average stock market performance over 15 years being nearly 7x higher. Whilst the book is now nearly 20 years old, its advice has stood the test of time. More recently, according to Deloitte, 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a well defined corporate culture is important to a business’ success.
Interestingly tech companies are often seen as having the most clearly defined and most successful corporate cultures. A survey by Glassdoor, in early 2020, found Google as the best place to work, having also won the accolade in both 2018 and 2015. Other tech firms are routinely praised as having the best company culture examples, including HubSpot, Salesforce, Cisco SAS, Netflix, and Zoom.
Annoyingly, corporate culture is intangible and hard to measure! It is designed to create a shared set of values and attitudes that guide the organization, and all its interactions with customers and employees and between team members. I particularly like Frei & Morriss’ definition in the Harvard Business Review: corporate culture “picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide. Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is of course most of the time.” A broad definition with many applications, and therefore we can assume is critical for any business!
Unsurprisingly, you’ll see the ramification of corporate culture across many parts of the business, and leaders need to build healthy corporate cultures, which are communicated and reinforced throughout the team. Allowing negative behaviors and toxic attitudes to fester will soon cultivate an unfavorable work experience. An ineffective culture can quickly bring a business to its knees, creating disengaged employees, poor customer relations, and unsurprisingly, as a result, diminished profits.
Often corporate culture is seen as sitting firmly in the HR domain; it sets the tone for all current employees and what sort of employees it seeks out. Certainly, it helps with employee retention: a study discovered that the likelihood of turnover at companies with rich cultures is a third of that in a company with a poor culture. Similarly, a recent LinkedIn survey found that people would rather put up with lower pay (65%) and forego a fancy title (26%) than deal with a bad workplace environment!
At a hiring level, cultural fit needs to be prioritized. One of my favorite examples is the American shoe and clothing retailer Zappos, whose interviewing process starts with a cultural fit interview, which carries half the weight of whether the candidate is hired. During onboarding, they offer $2,000USD to quit the job to those who feel that it isn’t the right fit for them in the first week of training. HR’s input doesn’t stop there of course, and there’s a lot of work to be done to make sure that culture is continually expressed and reinforced. There must be two-way communication and feedback, continuous learning and training opportunities, as well as sustainable learning, recognition, and reward programs.
I can’t help but feel that corporate culture is a key strategic concern. Employees need to be engaged, motivated, and excited to stick around, in order to produce their best work. Simon Sinek’s “start with why” suggests that individuals and teams perform better when their goals are shared and clearly articulated. There are some key questions to be considered: Why does the company exist? What are the company’s values? What does the company want to achieve?
As a relatively new company, Dacxi faces a number of challenges, and it’s important to focus on culture as early as possible. We have numerous team members in different time zones, and I have spent 7 of the 9 months I have worked for Dacxi under some level of lockdown. I have managed to onboard new team members remotely, but it’s not ideal. We are likely to grow the size of the team five-fold next year, which again has its cultural challenges in the speed of growth. A great example of a recent conundrum has been what to do about a Christmas party for 130. A physical meeting is of course contrary to the COVID rules, so we needed to think “outside of the box”. Thus, we are having an online virtual Christmas bash, with a professional west end singer leading some festive songs. I spent a lot of my Friday night posting out a “party bag” containing some cash to buy alcohol, a song sheet, and a party hat!
In conclusion, today’s employees have high expectations of their employers, and it goes far beyond just a market rate salary. In search of job satisfaction, collaboration, high performance, employee morale, and less stress, clearly, corporate culture is a key ingredient for happy employees and a successful business.