Culture is, in a nutshell, “the way we do things around here”. A recent Glassdoor survey [1] found that company culture is one of the top five most important things job-seekers consider before accepting a new job.
Your culture is informed by your values and behaviours. The talented individuals that your organisation needs to engage, in order to succeed, will not be swayed by words written on a wall or in a handbook. What they are convinced by, however, is evidence of the rhetoric being supported by action. When values are clearly demonstrated firstly by senior leaders, then immediate managers, followed by everybody else, it is immensely powerful. It is increasingly creating tangible organisational value for forward-thinking organisations who aren’t content to follow. Companies who fail to translate their values into everyday behaviours will find a disconnect between the values they say they stand for, and market to potential customers, employees and other stakeholders, and the culture they actually have. Whether it’s a product they’re thinking about buying or a company they’re considering joining, people are drawn by a clear, compelling message which is consistent wherever, and from whomever, it is heard.

Top reasons for nurturing your culture:

  • Culture eats strategy for breakfast, said Peter Drucker. But why is this? A strategy can be imitated by your competitors, and with the ever-increasing pace of change in today’s business world, often quickly imitated. A new strategy no longer guarantees sustained competitive advantage. When your culture and values have been clearly defined, and effort has been made to embed them into everyday practice, this presents you with a unique difference that is very difficult to imitate. Leadership expert Rene Carayol points out that leaders should focus on culture and vision, not strategy and marketing [2]. He states that “Smart organisations obsess about their culture”. Despite this, 87% of organisations today still do nothing to craft their culture, presenting a real opportunity for their competitors to steal a march on them.
  • Having a well-defined culture also gives backbone and definition to your employer brand; making it much more straightforward to attract the right people to deliver your future success. Marketers have known this for some time and have become adept at creating brand promise and values, and defining the best customer segments for their products. A marketer realises that to make acquisition and retention more effective, they need to establish a clear image of what their brand stands for in the mind of their target audience. The technicalities of what a product or a company does, on it’s own, is just not ever going to be convincing enough. Defining and embedding a culture is much the same as defining and establishing a brand, as is pinpointing the people who will be attracted, and eventually loyal, to your product or workplace. (To read more about getting your employer branding right, see our article Branded for Life).
  • A great workplace culture has an inevitable, natural and positive impact on the happiness, engagement and productivity of your employees. In the words of Tony Hsieh, CEO at Zappos: “Businesses forget about culture and ultimately they suffer for it because you can’t have good service from unhappy employees.” Hsieh goes one step further than the vast majority of business leaders. He believes that culture is paramount and that an organisation’s brand(s) are actually lagging indicators of their workplace culture.
  • To be recognised as a “Best Workplace”, you have to demonstrate a great workplace culture. (To find out more about becoming a “Best Workplace”, see our article here.) Leading global authority, Great Place to Work, assesses organisational culture both through answers provided on an employee survey, as well as through a Culture Audit. Best Workplaces are sought after by the most talented employees. They are valued more highly by investors, customers, governance and partners. They financially outperform their competitors by 2-3% per year [3]. Nurturing your organisational culture across investors, customers, partners, and employees, will enable and enhance sustainable organisational performance.
We work with many clients to align Values & Culture with Organisational Purpose and Strategy. To find out more about our work, or to discuss your particular challenges, please contact us.

Related Starboard articles:

How 5 Companies Bring Their Values to Life, click here
Signs of High-Performing Organisational Cultures, click here 
[1] Glassdoor’s Top 25 Companies for Culture & Values, August 2014
[2] Rene Carayol: Leadership is about culture and vision, not strategy or marketing, CMO, March 2015
[3] 4 year academic study of Fortune Best Companies by Professor Alex Edmans at London Business School. 
© Tim Pointer, Starboard, 2016