There’s an old piece of business wisdom that says corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the business.
Whether you agree or disagree with that, what is beyond argument is the fact that a clearly defined and powerful company culture is a key characteristic of all successful businesses – impacting on staff turnover, productivity and, ultimately, profitability.
Yet while most organisations understand what they do, many organisations struggle to define themselves through how they do it. What, then, are the essential steps to building an effective company culture that will sharpen your competitive edge?
A winning culture cannot grow in an organisation that doesn’t promote and champion accountability at every single level, from the boardroom down.
This accountability – where people are encouraged to own both their successes and their failures – is essential in creating a fearless culture that places a high value on trust, autonomy, learning, and honesty.
I’ve written before about the difference between inclusivity and diversity, and the fact that true diversity cannot exist in organisations that are not inclusive. Inclusivity is about how an organisation ensures its people feel welcome and valued.
The businesses that achieve genuine inclusivity are those that ensure every employee experience and opportunity is broadly uniform (whilst also understanding that an organisation may occasionally have good reason to treat someone differently in order to provide an inclusive working environment).
By nature, companies that are either reluctant to communicate openly, or communicate badly, tend to be perceived by their employees as secretive and cliquey, which tends to provoke a greater degree of employee mistrust and cynicism.
People thrive in organisations where communication is regular, relevant, and mutual. That mutuality is vital – many companies make the mistake of applying a cascade approach to communication.
To contribute to the development of a positive culture, dialogue needs to be two-way, so that the business understands the needs of its people, and its people understand the needs of the business.
Transparency and communication go hand in hand because they are mutually supportive. Employees working within companies that are completely open about their decision-making, processes and policies generally have greater confidence in leadership, and are more likely to feel they are treated with fairness and respect.
Being transparent doesn’t mean organisations can’t protect operationally or strategically sensitive goals or processes, but they should be transparent on the rule of engagement around when secrecy is necessary.
5. Benchmarking your values
Businesses talk easily about mission and vision, but neither can exist unless they are wedded to a clear set of values that guide not only what the business does, but also how it does it – both internally, and in public.
Values often relate to aspirational themes, such as integrity, respect, teamwork, honesty and innovation.
Organisational culture is always enshrined through leadership. People respond unconsciously to consistently demonstrated behaviours, actions and messaging from those in positions of influence and power, so how your leaders exemplify the cultural values of your business is important.
In the end, it takes time to build a positive company culture, but it doesn’t take very long to destroy it.
If you’d like to find out how Convergent can help you to build a culture framework, please get in touch.