Sometimes, it can be hard to distinguish between cutting edge business language and the type of meaningless jargon that enabled David Brent to climb the corporate ladder at Wernham-Hogg all those years ago. It is an important distinction to make, however, particularly for ambitious entrepreneurs with a burning desire to create a successful (and relevant) business for the modern age.
Take the concept of company culture, for example, which may sound to some like a trendy sound bite that offers little more than superficial value in the corporeal business market. This represents a huge misconception, however, as company culture is, in fact, an increasingly important entity that can unite even the most diverse workforce while improving productivity, communication and, perhaps most importantly, employee engagement levels.
The Growing Importance of Company Culture
Interestingly, a number of recent studies and reports have explored the importance of culture within the workplace, with the overwhelming majority finding that this is, in fact, central to organisational success. The most telling of these was a July 2016 report from the CIPD, which confirmed that while cultivating a company culture was a time-consuming process, it would, ultimately, serve as a core pillar of commercial success in the long term.
Here lies the issue for business and particularly start-ups that are consumed with establishing a client base and generating initial turnover. Cultivating a business culture takes time and investment, while the benefits will not necessarily become apparent until further down the line. This forces some to perceive it is a luxury in the current climate rather than a seminal aspect of their businesses’ development.
The key to challenging this perception lies in education, as businesses must learn the core, strategic steps that enable them to create a company culture as affordably and efficiently as possible. With this in mind, here is an initial guide to help you achieve this aim.
Focus on Universal Qualities Such as Empowerment and Freedom
While no single company culture is identical to the next, the inherent nature of the concept means that there are some overarching aspects that can be considered as universal. These must form the foundation of your culture, particularly if you are to successfully engage employees and encourage them to buy into your ideas (which, let's face it, is the one goal that all company cultures must achieve).
The two most important elements of any company culture are empowerment and freedom, which transforms them from generic cogs in the wheel to actively engaged ambassadors for your brand. In terms of empowerment, this generally applies to the creation of flexible working directives rather than stringent rules, with the idea being that this enhances engagement levels, increases productivity and affords individual employees the freedom to thrive within the boundaries of their role.
Now, a note of caution is required here. After all, an estimated 70% of US citizens regularly take at least one pharmaceutical drug but this does not mean that American brands should make these abundantly available to employees as a way of empowering them. Instead, you should strive to create a culture that is built on the generic principles of empowerment and freedom, using these and the input of your employees to influence the core decisions that you make.
The initiation of flexible working directives offers a relevant case in point, as this empowers employees to create working schedules that afford them the best possible work-life balance. While many progressive governments have implemented such directives in recent times, your goal as a business owner should be to think creatively and extend beyond these guidelines in a bid to truly empower your employees.
Make no mistake: focusing on these fundamental principles will help you to refine and underpin your company culture while giving it the best possible chance of success.
Use Your Organisational Design to Implement Your Culture
At this point, there are probably some very nervous entrepreneurs peeking out from behind their computer screens. After all, it is all very well discussing the principles of a progressive company culture and the benefits of flexible working directives, but implementing these in a practical environment is far more challenging, right?
While this is indeed challenging, it is also a process that can be governed by something called organisational design. This is something that was covered at length by the aforementioned CIPD report, and in simple terms, it relates to the structure, hierarchy and individual process that allow you to physically implement a desired culture.
Broken down further, it provides an overarching guideline that governs how your company operates in any given scenario, from its benefits packages and policies to the way in which it communicates (both internally and externally).
Clearly, designing this starts with your company’s hierarchy and infrastructure which will identify strategic decision-makers and create a funnel for implementing and managing your culture. It continues with individual processes and decisions, which are designed with the core pillars of your culture and the demands of your employees in mind.
This structured approach also delivers another huge benefit, as it clarifies the chain of authority within the business while defining the culture and reinforcing the accountability that employees must take within this culture. It also ensures that every single aspect of the business becomes more productive and profitable as a result of your culture, which must ultimately remain every business’s primary, bottom-line goal.
Create Transparency to Enable a Seamless Transition
If you have not guessed it yet, designing your organisational culture is a time-consuming process that is far from easy. The nature of the process also dictates that it cannot be managed behind closed doors, as there is a fundamental need for transparency when refining, implementing and managing a company culture.
This also ties into the principle of empowerment, as transparency allows your brand to actively solicit the opinion of employees and leverage this to drive the implementation process. This not only reinforces the notion that employees are engaged and valuable ambassadors for your brand, but it also ensures that your company culture appeals to as many staff members as possible.
The question that remains is what does transparency look like in practical terms? The most obvious manifestation is the involvement of employees in strategic business and company culture decisions, where key metrics and guidelines are discussed openly and honestly throughout the firm. This also exposes employees to the thought processes behind specific decisions, enabling them to immerse themselves in the prevailing culture and alter its course.
Similarly, this also encourages open lines of communication and two-way interaction, as employees are also empowered to share their ideas and refine the company culture even more.
Above all else, this ensures a seamless transition for your company as it establishes a new and engaging culture, negating many of the pitfalls that occur through a lack of open communication. It also gives you the best possible chance of optimising the return on your short-term investment, as your company culture must ultimately translate into human and social profit if it is to be described as successful.
These tips should enable you to manage the difficult process of conceiving and implementing a company culture, particularly when they are used as part of a considered and strategic approach. Above all else, they enable you to empower your employees as a key part of this process, which is central to every successful business culture across the globe.
Do you have anything you’d like to add? Join the conversation below, and tell us what you think!