Having been asked to present at the BFA conference recently on culture, gave me the opportunity to stop and think about what culture, in a business context, actually means.
I’ve read around the subject of Culture within businesses and observed both positive and negative cultures within those I’ve worked with. All fascinating, but it left me with intrigue as to why some businesses have a great culture, while others one that needs some work!
So, my research has led me to understand a few things.
- Culture is effectively the personality of the business; how it feels about and treats its employees.
- Culture is not something that can be written down!
- Benefits, such as cool office spaces, with beanbags and pool tables do not define the culture, although they can be the icing on top of the “culture” cake.
Something I have come to realise is that businesses with a positive culture have simple rules, and yet they don’t have rule books. Their teams are clear about what matters to everyone, leaders are role models for desired behaviours, managers hire for these behaviours, and people are celebrated for them.
When looking at The Times 100 best companies, culture features heavily in why they are the best……words and phrases that appear across the board are respect, ‘pride in delivering quality’, ‘integrity’, ‘energy’, ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘values’ – essentially, doing the right thing for their teams, and / or franchisees.
There are some tell-tale signs of a toxic culture. Things like gossip, leaders with bad habits, lack of direction or clear objectives can be red flags. These sometimes manifest themselves as hyper-competition in an office environment (although healthy competition can be a good thing), micro-management or a focus, to the exclusion of everything else, on profit or share value.
A positive culture trait is the ability to be able to give and receive feedback. If the culture of a business is supportive, people will feel supported in taking and giving feedback, knowing that this is given with positive intent and not as part of a blame culture.
Key elements of businesses who have a positive culture appear to be that they have a very clear idea of their values and beliefs, they have a clear mission, and defined vision and detailed focused objectives that are time specific.
There’s lots of lingo in the business world, and two that are often banded around are ‘mission’ and ‘vision’. It can be confusing as to what means what. I once read that your mission statement is something that you should be able to articulate on a t-shirt, i.e. brief and to-the-point, whereas you can let your creative juices flow when writing your vision, as this details what you need to do, and by when, in order to achieve your mission.
I know some people are sceptical as to why you’d want a mission statement, but there are clear benefits to having one, summarised here:
- It provides direction for entire teams/networks
- It’s like having a road map and keeps you going in the right direction, even in a storm
- It helps with the decision-making process, i.e. is this idea mission worthy?
- With a clear mission statement you can discuss the merits of new ideas against the mission – does it fit?
- Having a mission softens the blow of change – if everyone has bought into the mission it makes change easier to deal with.
Strategic objectives can then be developed to hang from your mission and vision.
This all leads to creating a positive culture within a business. Once you have that you can reap the rewards, which typically show themselves in increased profitability, improved effectiveness, enhanced retention and a positive reflection on your brand.
The good news is that everyone has the ability to influence the culture within a business and can start to do so with immediate effect. Culture isn’t a specific ‘thing’ and varies from business to business. As mentioned earlier, it is not something that can be written down.
So, where to start? The best place to start is with yourself. The first step is to identify the value and belief systems you are living to – although these are likely to be something that you aren’t consciously aware of, as our values and beliefs are typically instilled in us as children. Talk to your team, your leader, your network. Is the culture needing work, or is it great and just needs preservation? Either way, investing in building a positive culture will always be time well spent.