About the Value of a Strong Company Culture
They say: «Culture eats strategy for breakfast». I don't think that's true; at least not entirely.
Culture vs. strategy
«Culture guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. (...) Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide. Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is of course most of the time.»1
This quote gives us quite a good idea of the function of company culture and makes it obvious why we should give company culture so much attention to. What this quote doesn't tell us is how this culture arises and who defines it. At WONDROUS, our company culture is part of our strategy.
Corporate strategy is commonly understood as a long-term plan designed to achieve certain business goals. Digging a little deeper, we will get a more holistic view on the term. The word «strategy» has its origin in ancient Greek, derived from the two words «stratos» (= army) and «ago» (= leading). Knowing this, we could say that strategy is more of a leadership plan and less of a business plan.And looking at it from that perspective, strategy and culture coexist; one can't survive without the other.
The key factors
Now, aiming to finally get to the centre of the meaning of this blog post's title, to value a strong company culture we first have to raise the question of what a strong company culture is. While company strategy is commonly measured by KPIs that define the success of the business, the quality of a company culture shows itself in factors like:
- Low labor turnover rates
- Happiness of employers
- Proactivity of employees
- Affiliation with the company and it's brand
While some of these factors are better to measure than others, all of them are hard to interpret. They are all multilayered and consist of intangible qualities. But only the motives behind the metrics tell us something about the quality of a company culture.
Let me explain with an example: Company A, a startup in Switzerland, has a high labor turnover rate. The majority of that company's employees are around 20. Company B, an old-fashioned insurance company also based in Switzerland, has a low labor turnover rate. From only the labor turnover rate it cannot be said whether the company culture is strong or weak because naturally, young people in Switzerland are more likely to leave the job for traveling, collecting experiences while employees with families tend to value financial security.
The thing with evaluations
When it comes to evaluating company culture, one has to be very careful. Regular and qualified assessments with every single employee of the company are necessary. Also, these interviews – or as we like to call them conversations – should alternate when it comes to the participants. Room must be given for the exchange of thoughts and ideas, personally and professionally. And finally, there's nothing that beats real interest and a profound sympathy towards another person.
Strategic approach for culture
Put in a nutshell, I believe, a strong company culture can be achieved only with a strategic approach. Any culture can only live through actions – often called rituals. And it's the leadership plan, that defines the importance of these rituals and gives the necessary room for the (wait for it:) cultivation of them.
So, when it comes to company culture, and the rituals of that culture, you must «walk the talk». No excuses here.
Time to harvest
There are many studies that prove the value of a strong company culture related to productivity. At WONDROUS, we challenge our company culture with regular initiatives. An initiative is launched whenever a (systemic) tension arises. Anyone can come up with an initiative at any time. But HR leaders are required to do so, because they supposed to see, feel and know the tensions first as they are part of every single structured conversation in the company.
We recently launched the initiative #failforward, because we felt that our young and dedicated team members allow no room for error to themselves because they seem to believe that they have to be perfect. That is, in my opinion, completely wrong as we never learn as much as we do after we made a mistake.
The WONDROUS way
If it is the culture that tells us what to do after the CEO left the room, the culture can be observed best, when the CEO is in the room. I am convinced that we have a strong and good company culture, because I experience it every day, when...
- people share their personal experiences, for example after a vacation or weekends,
- people trust me with private information and ask for my advice,
- our managing director goes the extra mile to organise a wedding gift for an employee personally,
- people don't talk about work-life-balance but are very balanced at work.
And finally, I think the greatest asset of a strong company culture is that fundamental feeling of trust towards each other. This is how and why you sleep well – even in stressful times.
1Article in HBR by Francis Frei and Anne Morriss