Every business knows the value of its branding – it is the image an entity displays to the outside world. But behind the scenes of a business and any brand is the culture that defines it.
Far more complex than logos, missions and values, business culture is the internal feel of an organisation. It is the character and personality inside a workplace that allows a business to attract top talent, foster loyal employees, and perform at an elite level.
And make no mistake, this internal culture is not just understood by the employees within an organisation, but also affects the reputation that a business builds with the outside world.
That makes culture critical to every level of business and means ultimately it is inseparable from its branding.
Here’s an insight into culture, what it is, why it’s critical and how to establish a positive one.
What culture is
In many ways, culture is the sum of multiple parts of a business.
It is the:
- Beliefs a business has, usually set down in its missions and values
- The leadership styles it embraces, which ultimately affect the morale of employees
- The type of talent it attracts, which impacts its performance
- The incentives management offers for performance
- The physical layout and environment of the workplace, which impacts the way staff work, their safety and morale
- The work conditions a business offers, such as the ability to work from home, take extended parental leave etc
- Its human resources policies on gender diversity, equal opportunity and safety
- The branding, beliefs and stories a business tells the outside world
As Harvard Business Review recently explained, culture can also be a little more tricky to define.
In 2013, they surveyed leaders via LinkedIn to understand what culture is, and received the following among the responses:
“Culture is how organisations ‘do things’.” — Robbie Katanga
“Organisational culture defines a jointly shared description of an organization from within.” — Bruce Perron
“Organisational culture is civilization in the workplace.” — Alan Adler
“Organisational culture is the sum of values and rituals which serve as ‘glue’ to integrate the members of the organization.” — Richard Perrin
And perhaps this latter definition describes culture best, with HBR noting: “Culture is a carrier of meaning. Cultures provide not only a shared view of ‘what is’ but also of ‘why is’.”
“In this view, culture is about ‘the story’ in which people in the organisation are embedded, and the values and rituals that reinforce that narrative. It also focuses attention on the importance of symbols and the need to understand them — including the idiosyncratic languages used in organisations — in order to understand culture.”
Why culture matters
Culture might be hard to define, but in doing so business has the potential to transform both its performance and brand perception.
A positive and renowned workplace culture allows a business to:
- Attract top talent
- Improve staff engagement and retention
- Impact staff happiness and satisfaction
- Improve the performance of an organisation
In a branding context, culture then allows a business to establish a reputation as a place people want to work for, where the product or service matters, the belief system is shared and the values a company espouses extend through to the way a customer is treated.
Case in point – Uber
Perhaps one of the most salient examples of how workplace culture affects employees, performance and reputation is Uber, but it’s far from the only example that could be used.
In 2017, reports began to emerge of a toxic culture within Uber’s workplace. There were alleged incidents of sexual harassment, apparent ignored warnings about driverless cars not being ready for public use, reports Uber drivers had harmed customers, and protests by Uber drivers over their pay and conditions.
As the Huffington Post noted at the time: “Uber has been in the news a lot lately. Unfortunately, most of the stories have been negative. The latest news paints a picture of a company culture that has tolerated sexual harassment and discrimination”.
After two years spent in damage control, this year the company made a move to list on the stock exchange with an Initial Public Offering, but still the remnants of poor culture were being felt.
In fact, when Uber filed its initial paperwork with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, it had to address these issues directly, with CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, acknowledging Uber had “greater responsibilities” that it needed to honour while promising to act with “passion, humility, and integrity” once it went public.
Summarising the risk factors that potential investors in Uber should be aware of, the company further admitted:
“Our workplace culture and forward-leaning approach created significant operational and cultural challenges that have in the past harmed, and may in the future continue to harm, our business results and financial condition.
“A failure to rehabilitate our brand and reputation will cause our business to suffer.”
It was a crystal-clear indication of the damage a toxic workplace culture can do to both the profitability of a business and the reputation of its brand.
So, what drives a positive workplace culture and how can a business establish and maintain one?
What drives a positive workplace culture?
As culture is so multi-faceted, creating a positive one encompasses almost everything a business does. It starts at the top extends through management and is pertinent to every employee, product or service that entity has.
Critically, however it begins with the vision and leadership of those at the helm of the business ship.
Culture commences with the leaders who guide the tone of any business. It involves the leadership style they embrace, and the way they treat and interact with their employees.
It extends to the stories they tell about their business, the behaviour they allow within their workplace, the decisions they make and the beliefs they espouse.
This leadership then trickles down throughout the culture of a business through the policy tone they set for the business and the mission, vision and values that they identify as critical to that business’ success.
Mission, Vision and Values
The mission, vision and values of a business set the belief system for that operation. These are the ultimate values a business will uphold, and the goals they hope to attain.
Set by the leaders of the business, mission, vision and values are the overarching principles that all business decisions and staff are guided by.
Mission, vision and value offer clarity to all sectors of the business realm. They allow staff to understand where an organisation is headed, they help guide decisions made on a company’s behalf and they indicate to a consumer what they can expect from an entity now and into the future.
That makes the business vision and mission critical to the culture of a business. They are akin to the religion that a business identifies with, the commandments they will obey and the doctrines they will preach within an organisation and beyond into the public realm.
Culture might start with leadership, but the managers who implement this vision and belief system are integral to the dynamics of a workplace.
Management should be seen to uphold those values daily, make decisions based on the belief system of a business and the reputation that business hopes to enjoy.
These managers should be selected for their “fit” within the ideal culture of a workplace and their willingness to implement the policy, procedure and practices that allow a business to foster a positive culture.
Policies and procedures are the physical implements that allow a business to enact its desired culture. They set the rules for how employees will act, how they treat each other, the chain of command they will adhere to and the service they will provide.
Policies and procedures clearly outline what is accepted and expected, and what is not permissible or tolerated within a workplace, encompassing everything from sexual harassment to discrimination, dress code and customer service standards.
Within these policies and procedures are the practices a business adopts. These are the actual actions a business takes to hire staff, create products, and offer services.
Practices also extend to the way staff are recognised for their achievements, the conditions they work under, and the way they are compensated for their time and effort.
They also encompass the way a business communicates with its staff, including the type of communication, the tone and the frequency.
On the flipside, these communication practices recognise it is a two-way street and staff who are invested in a business will likely need to communicate with management, offer their opinions and ideas, and raise any issues they may have.
As important, if not more so than any and all of the above are the people that a business hires to work for and represent them. Their skills and beliefs need to align with the desired company culture.
There needs to be mechanisms in place to recognise those who achieve as part of these culture and weed out those who do not “fit”.
Finally, the physical environment employees work in also plays an integral role in the culture a company has. Is it welcoming, professional, safe? Does it align with the values of the business, the culture it’s looking to create and the image it is hoping to portray?
At Openseed we specialise in planting the seeds of customer reach through compelling brands and SEO optimised websites. We then nurture kernel of great content, devising strategies and storytelling to support business in their ongoing conversation with their customer. Ultimately it reaps an ongoing harvest that delivers business real and proven results.