Investing in Culture: Your Most Important Business Objective

I was having a discussion recently about company culture, something often talked about but rarely truly captured and lived by companies.

Have you ever worked somewhere where the culture seemed riddled with contradictions – website slogans which only ever seemed to be given voice in client meetings or interviews with prospective candidates? Colleagues who all knew what they were ‘supposed’ to feel about the company, but who really were all disconnected. Or perhaps you’re a founder who knew clearly what your intention for your company culture was, but growth phases were met with clashes and high turnover.

Culture determines the people you attract, the quality of the people you attract affects the quality of the work you produce, which affects the clients you attract and the value of your work to them. Even if, like Amazon, who recently came under fire in the New York Times for their aggressive, relentless and somewhat merciless approach to their work and their employees’ welfare, your culture is not as warm and fuzzy as many founders aspire to, at least it is defined and anticipated by new employees. People choose to work at Amazon because of the buzz that comes with a somewhat brutal work hard, play hard culture. I’d posit that this is better than having that culture but not being upfront about it, and thus not having the same high quality of employees looking to make their name.

The worst kinds of environment are those that fall in between an Amazon (cut-throat but ambitious and high quality) and those like Google who offer the same excellence with a seemingly warmer culture, an on-site doctor, and months of fully paid parental leave. Because having a clearly defined culture, whatever its nature, is better than having no culture at all, being bland, sounding like everybody else and being all talk.

Do not write down some words, send out a memo, and leave it at that. 

You literally need to live your culture from the top down. You need to reward people who demonstrate it. You need to invest significant amounts of time and money to help educate people about what you’re trying to do, what your mission is and what your values are.

Most importantly, you need to embody them, and in public, visible ways. You need to make sure that everything you do, and everything you produce, has a coherent message and embodies what you stand for. When you hire, don’t write a generic boring job spec with the same words everybody else does; market your company in such a way that you attract the kind of people you want to hire (like Google, embedding a secret coding challenge in their search engine).

Do not underestimate the importance of culture.

It runs throughout and affects everything you do, and everyone you come into contact with.

In a recent course I viewed on Udemy I saw this statistic: “57% of a typical purchase decision is made before a customer even talks to a supplier (B2B)”.

This is because a customer’s impression of you is coloured by what they see, and what they hear, and if you establish and live a truly clear culture, your employees and your clients will do all the positive talking for you. If you don’t, you fight twice as hard for each sale.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *