Before starting out we put a lot of effort into crafting our brand, our purpose and vision and all that good stuff, but that was just the beginning. We'd created the outer shell for everyone to see, but what about what’s inside? The intrinsic factors that would make us truly unique? For us, this is where culture comes in, it’s the soul of a company that brings your vision to life, making it a reality through the working environment, people and customs that evolve.
A definition of culture is “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.” Every action or nuance of a company culture forms another piece of the puzzle of what it’s like to work there. Having a distinct culture will help your people and customers identify with you and figure out whether you’re someone they want to spend time with – be that through working with or doing business with you. If you want good people, you have to attract them to you, and keep them.
Building a culture to be proud of
As a small, embryonic business we have the opportunity to create the culture we want (at least the parts that we can control...), a luxury that isn’t lost on us having been part of big established businesses with deeply entrenched cultures.
So when we got the opportunity to work with Strathclyde University’s Business Clinic on a project to help us define our ideal culture - we took it!
The goals of the project are three-fold:
- Define and create a company culture that supports the values, mission and strategy of This is Milk
- Design a measurement model to evaluate the corporate culture and to make sure we are not moving away from our desired culture – and change it if we need to
- How to address potential culture clashes in order to work most effectively with clients and successfully affect change.
The students came in to see us a few weeks ago and we had a great session where they worked on getting to the bottom of what ‘great’ culture really means to us; they did a speed-dating style interview with each one of us asking:
- Which do you consider the three most/least desired characteristics of corporate culture? (Where we had to pick from a list of common culture statements)
- Which are the three main aspects you would take into This is Milk from the culture models that you have experienced previously
- Which three didn't you like? Do you remember any particularly bad experiences?
- How would you describe the ideal corporate culture for you if you had to explain it to a five year old?
- How do you work most efficiently? What motivates you?
So setting out our ‘cultural stall’ is one thing, and we’re taking it seriously. However, we’d be naïve to think that just stating This is Milk’s culture is enough. We can start out on the right path but it’s the journey itself and those who join us that will be the real culture clincher!
Using the organisational culture model by Edgar Schein, there are three levels of phenomena that define a company culture:
- Artifacts – the tangible things that can be ‘seen’ – your space, equipment, logo, uniform
- Values – the stated values and rules of behaviour – your code of conduct, processes, public statements of identity
- Assumptions – these are deeply embedded and hard to recognise from within – they’re the ‘unwritten rules’ your people share e.g. working late is the ‘done thing’, Friday’s we go to the pub, ‘big Jimmy doesn’t talk to anyone until he’s had his morning latte’….
It’s the invisible factors, often out with our control that have the biggest influence on your company culture.
It’s what ‘I am’ not what ‘I say I am’.
Why is culture so important?
These are just some of the (very compelling) reasons why setting a clear culture is a positive move for any business:
Positive culture boosts the bottom line
A recent study in the Wall Street Journal states that: “a positive culture increases performance, but performance alone doesn’t create a positive culture”. Companies with a culture that ‘engages and motivates employees’ will see better financial results, but a company’s success doesn’t guarantee a positive culture —and ‘companies that succeed without a positive culture are likely to see their results decline’.
Your people are your brand
The way your people feel will manifest itself through everything they do at work and this will feed through to your customers. Individuals who enjoy their peers and enjoy what they do are often a lot happier, and if they’re happy they are going to be more engaged in the company.
Culture is a true USP
Torben Rick states that the most important point about culture is that ‘it’s the only sustainable point of difference for any organisation. Anybody can copy a strategy, but they can’t copy a culture’. The challenge is building a culture that people want to copy, and learning how to grow with it!
Culture is hard to change
Culture is deeply entrenched and so if you wake up one day and realise your business isn’t the joyful, bustling hive of creativity and industry you imagined it would be, you might just be too late to do anything about it, or you’ll have to take some extreme measures to shift it.
So ask yourself:
- What can we do to make our organisation an enjoyable place to work as well as do business with?
- How can we offer ‘meaningful employment’ to our people?
- Do our people connect with our values and if not, why not?
Good culture attracts good people who in turn feed a positive environment, better performance, more good people and so it goes on… It’s a cycle that, as a business leader, you just can’t afford to ignore!