WHAT IT IS AND WHY IT MATTERS
Written By: Robb Stevens
Acommonly talked about thing in the business world is the importance of organizational culture. It comes up often here at Med One that we have “great culture.” But I’ve often found myself wondering what people mean when they say that. As Inigo said to Vizzini in The Princess Bride, “you keep using that word – I do not think it means what you think it means.”
The phrase “culture is king” may be overused, but it’s also true. Many business leaders have weighed in on why it’s important to them. Here are four that I find particularly insightful:
“Company culture is the backbone of any successful organization.” (Gary Vaynerchuck, VaynerMedia)
“You can have all the right strategies in the world, but if you don’t have the right culture, you’re dead.” (Patrick Whitesell, Endeavor Entertainment)
“Determine what behaviors and beliefs you value as a company, and [urge] everyone to live true to them. These behaviors and beliefs should be so essential to your core, that you don’t even think of it as culture.” (Brittany Forsyth, SVP of HR, Shopify)
“Culture is like the wind. It is invisible, yet its effect can be seen and felt.” (Bryan Walker, Partner and Managing Director, Ideo)
There’s no question that culture matters big time for any company, but in my view, there is much misunderstanding by employees and even leaders at times about what it actually is. This matters because anyone who wants to positively influence culture must first understand more fully what it is. This article is my attempt to unpack culture in business and what each of us can do about it.
Some people may have the impression that culture in the workplace refers to perks and benefits a company offers or the openness and flexibility of an office environment. That could be things like how much time a person can take off for lunch or breaks during the workday, ping pong tables, TVs and snacks in a breakroom, catered lunches, holiday parties, birthday celebrations, or tickets to sporting events. A list like this could go on and on, and such perks can certainly be a huge motivator for employees. While those kinds of “benefits” may stem from the overall culture of a business or may be products of a workplace environment, they are NOT the company’s culture. Even benefit packages are ultimately a byproduct of deliberate work a company’s leaders put forth to create an enjoyable office environment.
"Senior leaders, owners, and even board members set the tone for an organization by the way they behave. Thus, every person in a leadership role becomes a sort of Chief Cultural Officer in their own way as they seek to effectively walk the walk rather than just talk the talk."
If it’s not the above, then what IS company culture? Often called organizational or corporate culture, it is really defined as the shared values, beliefs, attitudes, and practices that characterize an organization. Culture is the personality of a company, and it plays a large part in overall employee satisfaction. As such, it greatly impacts the way employees and management interact with each other and with their customers. Culture tends to develop organically over time from the cumulative traits of leadership and the people they hire to build and run their company.
A company’s culture can be summed up in three main things:
1. Values: This includes those stated with wordsand those exhibited through actions. For example, thevalues that Med One focuses on are included in theCOURAGEOUS acronym we’ve embraced the pastcouple of years.
2. Mission and Vision: A mission and vision statement should be an important indicator and guide of what a company is and what it wants to be, but to be effective, mission and vision statements cannot be written and forgotten. They must be articulated, taught, and implemented across the whole of a company and adjusted along the way as a company progresses.
3. Employment Decisions & Criteria: These are the reasons you bring people onto the team, reasons they may leave the team, and what drives promotions and other types of rewards. These elements are perhaps the most visible and impactful to employees of anything that goes on at a company, so great care and concern must be given in this area.
Practically speaking, what exactly does all of this look like in day-to-day real-life applications? Here are a few examples:
A company’s culture says a great deal about its employees, what they collectively value, and what drives them to do what they do. Frequently, job seekers can pick up on it almost immediately. I’ve heard often from those I’ve interviewed over the years that there is a good cultural “feel” at Med One. All of that is commendable, but we must be careful not to spend too much time patting each other on the back and thus become too entrenched in thinking we’re getting it 100% right all the time. Getting culture right requires constant care and vigilance.
The fact is, there is a rather striking disparity between management’s view of culture and the employees' overall view of it. This gap speaks to the ongoing challenge that every company faces: translating high aspirations for culture into day-to-day actions and aligning everyone in the organization under that same mantra. A yearly global survey on organizational culture done by PwC bears this out
The survey findings in 2018 revealed the following insights:
The 2021 PwC annual global survey further found that 77% of senior management feel connected to the company’s purpose vs 54% for everyone else. What can be done about this disparity? Employees pay close attention to company leaders and take cues from what they do much more than what they say or from a list of values found on a poster in the workplace. Senior leaders, owners, and even board members set the tone for an organization by the way they behave. Thus, every person in a leadership role becomes a sort of Chief Cultural Officer in their own way as they seek to effectively walk the walk rather than just talk the talk.
A strong company culture tends to attract the right candidates for jobs and keeps them engaged as employees. One Glassdoor study found that 77% of adults would evaluate a company’s culture before applying for an open position, and 56% rank culture as even more important than compensation.
Influencing culture is hard, and most leaders tend to declare victory too soon. It certainly isn’t built in a day or a month or even in a year, but throughout the life of a company. Maintaining the good things and implementing improvements then, is a long-term commitment for everyone at an organization.
According to the PwC research, people are generally more likely to describe their organization’s culture as positive rather than negative even when they see room for improvement. I realized this when I asked a sampling of Med One employees what they like and what they think needs change in our company’s culture. The things they liked far outweighed the things they felt needed to change.
This positive outlook indicates that most of us want a culture we can be proud of. When leaders demonstrate a real commitment to maintaining and improving their cultures, employees will be much more likely to take notice, appreciate the effort, and contribute as well. When everyone is on board, a solid culture is no longer “inconceivable” but is real and achievable.