Corporate culture is a hot topic these days as companies try to attract top talent through their “awesome” culture and ping pong table. A Google search of corporate culture pulls up almost 29M results and Amazon has no shortage of books about how to improve, build or nurture your corporate culture. Quite often, organizations don’t think of culture beyond the section of the career page that marketing wrote. By not consciously building and nurturing a company’s culture, companies run the risk of creating a toxic environment with low employee engagement resulting in decreased innovation and profits.
What exactly is corporate culture?
In its most basic terms, corporate culture is the set of values, beliefs, and shared assumptions that govern behaviour within a company. Creating an awesome corporate culture is not as easy as a generous work from home policy and the aforementioned ping pong table. Work perks are not an indication of a good culture. Often those perks can keep top talent around longer but if the culture isn’t good, that talent will eventually leave taking with them institutional knowledge and the lost opportunity of capitalizing on their creative potential.
What defines a good corporate culture?
What talent looks for in a corporate culture isn’t that much different from what people want in society. An ideal corporate culture is positive, inclusive, supportive, and diverse. People want to feel like their ideas are listened to and their contributions are acknowledged, and if they can make a few friends that they’d hang out with outside of work, even better.
The 4 Pillars of a Good Corporate Culture
I don’t mean that everyone walks around giving high 5s all day, although everyone loves a well-deserved high 5. When I speak of positivity, I mean that people give each other the benefit of the doubt. They recognize that everyone is trying their best and different people have different levels as to what that looks like. Being positive isn’t the same as being happy. Demanding that everyone be happy or incorporating happiness into the mission of the organization won’t work. Happy is an emotion, like anger or sadness, that is fleeting and if you’ve watch “Inside Out”, you know that happy is nothing without sadness. It is an unrealistic expectation of employees to always be happy and smile. Being positive is putting your best face forward, it’s seeing the silver lining, and it’s making the best out of situation you’re in.
Imagine you’re in a planning meeting. You’ve brought together multiple departments. When the meeting starts, the same three people do all the talking and that shy employee never even gets a chance to add his input. Being inclusive is making the space for everyone to have input and valuing that input. It is knowing that the opinions, time and work from an assistant can be as valuable as from an executive. It’s about not playing favourites or creating an us vs them between teams or departments.
In a supportive environment, when a decision is reached, even if everyone doesn’t agree, everyone is able to get on board and try to make it a success. The key to a supportive culture is in how your company handles failure. When there is a win, it’s easy to share that win and celebrate together. When an initiative fails, that is when it’s more important to be supportive. Figuring out why the failure happened and learning from it is how people and organizations grow. Shunning or criticizing only makes the failure worse and decreases the chances the organization will experiment and innovate in the future, as people will be too afraid to take a chance and share their ideas.
Beyond the affirmative action that tells companies to have a mix of men and women, a mix of ethnicities, and a mix of disabilities, having a diverse workplace directly impacts the bottom line. It goes without saying that everyone has their own unique view point and there is no universal voice to the human experience. When a company combines those unique perspectives, the results are unexpected and turn out better than if there was only one voice. For me, diversity and inclusivity go hand in hand. And if you don’t include and value those diverse voices, diversity is just lip service and does not serve its purpose.
A New Hope
Once the culture of an organization is established, it can be hard to change. However, culture is a living breathing entity that reflects the employees and leaders, and it changes as the people in the organization change. Therefore, even though it is hard, culture is not set in stone and can be improved. How to bring about these improvements will be the topic of numerous posts as there is no one method or magic bullet to make things better. Just know that no matter what your current corporate culture, there are always ways to make it better.