Barriers to growth, and how marketing can help: Culture
Company culture provokes much discussion: over what it is, and how best to create and encourage it. Best practice often leads us to Google, which rarely seems to be out of the ‘top places to work’ lists, with its free meals, massages and dry cleaning.
Bad practice, though, leads to negative publicity: it can also impact sales and hinder the growth of a business. Danger comes in two forms. The first is having a culture, but ignoring it so that it becomes counter-productive. The second is having a negative culture. Both are damaging in different ways.
Eight out of ten respondents to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends survey believe culture is a potential competitive advantage. Culture is important, and it can impact company growth. But beyond high-profile perks, what goes into creating a positive company culture and how can marketing help you achieve that?
What you need to know:
1. What are the symptoms that culture is an issue?
Culture is firmly aligned with the mission and values of a business, and therefore your brand. Why? Well, if you struggle to articulate exactly what your business is about other than the products you sell, you’ve got a problem. Ally Maughan of People Puzzles explains that as companies grow, the initial, strongly uniting culture can often become a bit jaded. Culture underpins strategy, and simply put, is the character of the business. It takes time, commitment and energy from business leaders to underpin a strong culture, and they need to walk the talk. Unless the senior team are willing to live company values, they are simply meaningless words on a page.
Culture may be an issue in your organisation if, when trying to attract new staff, brilliant candidates aren’t converting. And when hiring, how well a new employee will mesh with the existing company culture, along with their ability to communicate clearly, should be key considerations.
Software consultancy Equal Experts recruits staff on the premise that “they will be able to act autonomously, seeking advice on the decisions they make, rather than adhering to a strict hierarchy”. This contributes to their positive company culture - the firm was recently ranked third in a league table of 20 best companies in Britain.
Meanwhile, strategic company Mitie has faced employee criticism on job site Glassdoor. Many focus on the "poor communication" between management and staff, with one employee saying that there are "a lot of changes that aren't always communicated properly". The company is now looking to introducing a ‘Mitie Way’ of talent management to develop and retain its people and create a winning culture that will help it stand out from its peers.
2. What happens if you do nothing about it?
Businesses will only tick along for so long when bad culture is an issue. In the long run, productivity will drop and you won’t attract the best talent. These two things alone should be enough to make a business owner sit up and listen.
Culture and productivity are closely related. Productivity isn’t just about cost, it’s about quality, listening to a customer’s needs, and employee relations. To foster a culture of positivity and productivity, a business requires a strong organisational culture: operating with clarity, strong decision making, business integration, a good management style, boldness of vision, compensation and employee development.
Research from Bain & Company found that Apple, Netflix, Google and Dell are 40% more productive than the average company: not because they attract more high-performing - and therefore more naturally productive - employees, but because of what they do with them. Companies that have evolved their office architecture, with open plan designs and natural light for example, and provide perks (such as ping pong tables and fully-stocked kitchens) are not uncommon anymore. They do this because people do their best work when they are comfortable and happy, and because these companies have defined values that promote a positive workplace.
And what’s the payoff for creating an atmosphere that is fun and productive? It comes in the form of talent: hiring great people and retaining them. The most talented candidates want to work for employers who have thought about the environment they provide; and once they’ve worked there, they don’t want to leave. Instead, they stay in place, doing their best work and leading to profit margins that are 30% - 50% higher than the industry average.
3. How to break through the barrier.
If you haven't paid attention to company culture, that doesn't mean one hasn't built up. Forcing through change doesn't work: you need to know what you're working with.
A good start is to gauge existing employees’ feelings about the business. Use anonymous employee surveys or even one-to-ones, but be aware that many answers will be a diluted opinion or lip service paid to what employees think you want to hear.
Asking good questions should elicit honest feedback - so try these for starters:
- What five qualities should a new employee have in order to fit in with our culture?
- What makes you proud to work at this company?
- What process could be fixed or improved?
- What do you need help with? On a daily basis? On a monthly basis?
- What’s causing you frustration or delays in your work?
- Looking back on this week, what would you like to see improved?
- How do we support your professional development and growth?
- What’s one thing you could change about the company if you could?
You could also look externally to a business that specialises in culture to help you define how employees feel, their current mindset and more. At The Marketing Centre, we work closely with People Puzzles, the UK’s leading provider of part-time HR Directors. They are experts in helping a business identify the characteristics of a strong and positive business culture, and how to go on the journey to build one. It only takes a few days of fact-finding to identify where the strengths and weaknesses are, and then you can get started on the meatier job of how to improve and develop it.
Once you understand what employees think, and understand the kind of business they want to work for, you can start to map out your values and mission. This is not about changing what you think to suit your employees; instead, it’s about guiding them into thinking like you do, and implementing changes that are in line with your vision.
Communication at every stage is critical. Whatever the culture, you want an engaged workforce. Internal marketing and internal communications have a vital role to play. A good company culture relies on internal communication – and vice versa – CMS Wire found that 97% of employees believe that communications impact tasks daily.
In 2017, IBM won PR Week’s Best in Internal Communications award. The previous year, it had created a learning-by-doing experience to educate its staff about cognitive business. More than 275,000 employees participated in a three-month process, embracing next-generation work methods. The results were outstanding: more than 72% of employees participated, and nearly 10% of the projects are being adopted by the business for additional development, both for clients and internally. More than half of those who participated are now adopting these new methods into their ways of working.
Not all internal communications initiatives need to be at this level, though. Smaller or more social activities could be assigned to a social committee. It might sound like an old school idea, but never underestimate the value of work days out, motivational speakers or an emphasis on - and endorsement of - work-life balance.
4. Outcomes: what does a good company culture look like?
Northern Power and Gas was recently voted the best company in Britain to work for, topping a list of companies that display “positive workplace culture and strong leadership development”. Its employees rated its focus on management behaviour and its investment in people, all of which help to boost productivity and morale.
SAP is another good example of a thriving company culture, winning dozens of awards in 2017. It celebrates the support that employees give one another and the “diversity of experiences, perspectives, and skills” that they bring to the organisation. Recognition comes from its employees, thanks to its strong and positive company culture.
You’ll know when your company culture is right. There will be a newfound buzz around the place, with more energy apparent in day-to-day operations. Longer term, you’ll retain staff, attract better talent and have a strong foundation for your marketing, branding and messaging. And you, as the business owner, will feel a newfound purpose and momentum. The clarity of the company culture will (and should) have a personal impact on your own enthusiasm.