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Why organisational culture matters

Published on 18 Jun 2013
Culture Underpins Everything In An Organisation

Alison Treadaway, director at Striata, speaks to writer Claire Watson about why it’s vital to build and nurture a great organisational culture.

CW: Why is the director of a communications software company talking about culture?
AT: Culture underpins everything in an organisation. It dictates how your employees treat customers and each other. It determines whether employees enjoy coming to work and actively engage with their colleagues and tasks.

A strong culture is the foundation that enables a business to embrace change. A growing business faces many challenges at different points in its journey. There’s a quote from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” – “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs . . .” – culture should be the steadying force for a business and its employees to weather any sort of change.

CW: How do you view company culture and what does it mean to you?
AT: Culture is that combination of the tangibles and intangibles that make our company unique in how we do things. It’s the sum of the physical attributes (environment, work space, tools) and the abstracts (management style, war stories, humour, social interaction, collaboration).

Culture exists outside of a product or value proposition, and many believe it supersedes strategy in contributing to achieving business goals.

Think about organisational culture as a personality. If someone were to describe your company personality – what words would you like them to use? Would it be words like: cut-throat or sales-driven; or would their description be more along the lines of honest, responsive, collaborative?

CW: Where should one start in building a solid and positive company culture?
AT: There are four areas that I believe are a good place to start – whether you’re doing a cultural ‘health check’ on a mature organisation or incubating a new culture in a start-up:

  • Defining and aligning company values: Let’s face it, humans are pack animals. We like to belong to a group, club or clan and we enjoy having a basic set of rules. It’s the same in a business: defining the company’s values will inform ‘how things get done’. Choose your key words carefully, and then embed them as values and integrate them into your company rhetoric. Teaching each employee the rules and values of your business makes for a solid foundation.
  • Work ethic: Don’t assume everyone has an appropriate work ethic. Be specific about how your employees are expected to behave and what is not acceptable. Compile a Code of Conduct and teach each new person the fundamentals during their induction program. Give them feedback regularly if they are missing the mark.
  • Growth: Good employees want to improve themselves. Understand what constitutes ‘growth’ for each person and give them space to grow both personally and professionally. Encourage and assist staff to study further, attend training and engage with mentors.
  • Make work fun: Sounds simple, but having fun at work is good for productivity, motivation and loyalty. People should enjoy being at work. An organisation should have a sense of humor.

CW: What’s the ultimate measure of a successful company culture?
AT: I think this is unique to each business based on what you value. Here are some measures that we use:

Results: Ultimately an organization is in business to achieve results. If your company culture is aligned to your goals and you’re successful; it will be in part due to culture. Culture is what binds everything together.
Laughter: I like hearing people laugh at work and I see humor as an important part of our culture. In the offices, at client meetings, on the phone – laughter is refreshing, bonding and energizing.
Churn: Aside from those that are unavoidable (emigration, sickness, career change) – how many employees resign that should have stayed longer? This is a fundamental testament to your hiring accuracy and cultural alignment.
Boomerangs: My personal favorite.
Boomerangs are what we call employees who have left us to gain experience out there and returned because this is such a great place to work.

CW: Do you think you’ve achieved the ultimate company culture?
AT: It’s always going to be a ‘work in progress’. Once you have defined and embedded your company culture, you can’t just leave it there. The reality of doing business at such a fast pace is that there will continue to be many curveballs that the business will need to field. Internal changes due to strategic direction, hyper-growth, new geographies and staff movements; external market changes, competition, economics – can all be weathered if your culture remains strong.

Both your customers and employees experience your company culture on a daily basis. I don’t believe any organization can afford to neglect their company culture.