There’s quite the distinguished awareness for company culture within the business realm these days.
Ever since the early stages of the tech boom and Google’s rise to prominence, it was quickly identified that the cultures in Silicon Valley were nothing short of miraculous.
Given that I haven’t set foot in many tech company’s quarters, I’m sure they’ll tell you the perception is not exactly reality.
However, beyond the bean-bag chairs and free Starbucks all day long, the source of an incredible culture starts somewhere far deeper —with the acknowledgement of humanity.
What Is Culture?
“To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.” — Doug Conant
A company’s culture is the context in which people are allowed to operate. Values, missions and promises exist here, but it’s more than that.
Culture is the lifeblood of the organization. You can have a culture of finger-pointing or you can have a culture of character.
Optimal culture from the vantage point of the employee is making a mistake and not fearing the reprimand, but feeling the impact it had on the company. It’s identifying at the level of organization, as opposed to the level of individual.
Organizations with incredible cultures recognize that everyone walking through the office doors on Monday morning is dealing with something. They understand that as much as they pinch and pry, there will always be something of greater importance to their employees. Culture is accepting this reality and instead of becoming resigned, finding ways within the workplace to fulfill that something of greater importance.
The best of cultures breed the life skills necessary to excel in life within the makeup of their work environments. They take their business seriously, but hold the livelihood of their employees to an even higher degree.
When the culture is contaminated, the impact has a ripple effect. Like a skyscraper, something that takes years to build can be destroyed in an instant.
The protection of the culture is just as integral as the culture itself.
People Are The Best Marketing Strategy
Companies are investing millions of dollars into advertising campaigns on a second-to-second basis.
While these efforts yield significant returns, the highest level of marketing is that of the human-to-human interaction between customer and team member. A poor experience with a salesperson or customer service rep can wipes out the entire acquisition cost of that potential customer and then some. New and existing business is exposed and given the human inclination identify what’s wrong by default, word can travel fast.
When team members are passionate however, it’s infectious. It’s quite the unexpected occurrence for a customer. People are conditioning themselves more and more to lower their expectations when interacting with companies that aren’t Amazon, Google, Nike, and the like.
When pride is present in an employee, it doesn’t go unnoticed. The customer understands that the company has taken the necessary steps to set up the team member to not only succeed, but to thrive.
No one like’s a schoolyard bully. When people come aboard with a new organization, they’re taking the inherent risk that they may be pushed around. Or ridiculed. Or berated. Customers know when this is happening, despite not actually witnessing it.
Conversely, customers also know and feel when companies don’t coach their employees on taking responsibility. Apart from the President or CEO, it’s an easy cop-out for a team member to pass the buck when a stressful situation unfolds. When a customer is present to an employee taking whole and complete ownership for a shortcoming, it’s refreshing and inspiring. This is where potential defeats can become quick victories.
The marketing a company invests in is rendered useless if they do not, in turn, invest wholeheartedly in their people.
Communication Is Key
Culture and communication go hand in hand. It’s fairly simple — great cultures communicate frequently and effectively.
Poor cultures don’t.
Being human means looking for ways to protect yourself — constantly identifying perceived threats. Without a platform for regular and open communication, employees begin to create these perceived threats in relation to their work.
An imperfection of a process that was never a problem before is suddenly a problem. The management style of a direct report that was once deemed helpful is now manipulating.
All these false realities can be avoided with consistent and authentic communication. No fluff — only truth (which is what’s outside of the human condition of to always identify what’s wrong).
When employees feel heard, noticed, and understood, they carry themselves differently. They’ll take greater risks and play a bigger game because they feel at peace with their relationship with the organization. They know that it will be worth the effort to succeed and that failure, if it occurs, will not be met with judgment or malice.
What It All Represents
“When people go to work, they shouldn’t have to leave their hearts at home.” — Betty Bender
Everything in business can be derived from simple humanness.
As intimidating as that senior leader may be, he too breaks down at times. As hostile and aggressive as that customer may appear, they’re dealing with something inside themselves that they are unable to contain.
And as resigned and checked out that former standout employee may seem, it’s rooted in pain and diminished self-worth.
It’s always something deeper. And we cannot forget this.
We love our systems. We love efficiency. We push and push to try and function like machines or robots. Every piece of rational technology is brought to the table to streamline what we cannot stand be open-ended.
But at the end of the day, we’re dealing with people. At every level. Just aiming to be the best they can be.
Knowing that perfection is impossible. Scared to death that the end result won’t be enough.
And so we keep pushing.
The business is taken seriously — because it’s a representation of the lives of the people running it.
Great companies with great cultures get this.
And they never lose sight of it.
There’s always something greater at stake.