It’s hard to overstate the importance of corporate culture. In just one example of just how critical company culture can be, a March study conducted by OfficeTeam found that two-thirds of surveyed human resources managers believed their organizations had lost employees as a result of cultural mismatches that left professionals who looked perfect on paper struggling to assimilate in reality. Some enterprises dedicate a lot of time and money to building strong, purposeful corporate cultures, but those that don’t still have a culture of sorts – whether positive or negative – even if they’re unaware of it.
Company culture from A to Z
As brand-building expert Denise Lee Yohn noted in a recent article she penned for the Harvard Business Review, online clothing and shoe vendor Zappos has developed an innovative, offbeat culture focused on “wowing” everyone involved with the company, from customers to vendors to shareholders. As part of this unconventional thinking, Zappos doesn’t ascribe to many traditional metrics. For instance, as Yohn explained, the time customer service representatives spend on the phone with each caller isn’t measured, which removes the pressure of maintaining a certain pace and allows reps to take as long as they need to tackle a problem to the best of their ability. Indeed, ensuring employees are engaged, motivated and even inspired is a huge priority at Zappos.
“If you can inspire your employees through a vision that has a higher purpose or by having values, then you can actually accomplish so much more,” asserted Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh in a 2014 speech, as quoted by the Chicago Tribune’s Blue Sky Innovation publication.
On the other end of the spectrum lies Amazon. Back in August, The New York Times shone a light on what it referred to as the e-commerce titan’s “bruising workplace,” a pressure-cooker environment that pushes employees to their limit – and even beyond – in a relentless quest to provide a top-notch customer experience. Although some of the people currently and formerly employed by Amazon who were quoted in the article implied their experiences were decidedly negative, it certainly sounds like the corporation has a strong corporate culture, for better or worse.
“Problems tend to creep in when companies are unable to clearly define their cultures.”
Take culture into consideration
Problems tend to creep in when companies are unable to clearly define and articulate their cultures, or when they don’t take culture into consideration when hiring.
“Employers often focus on ensuring a skills fit when recruiting, but a corporate culture fit is equally important and more challenging to gauge,” stated Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam.
Writing for Forbes, contributor William Craig listed a few questions for corporate leaders to ask themselves as a way to self-audit their organizational cultures, such as:
- How loyal are employees to the company?
- What does being employed by the organization mean to those who work there?
- How do employees act in the workplace?
- What common behaviors can be seen across the enterprise?
The answers to these questions can not only help leaders determine whether the company is a “good place to work,” but also assists in the process of finding descriptors that give an accurate picture of what it’s like to work there. Going back to the examples above, Zappos might find that a word such as “inspiring” would be a good encapsulation of the employee experience, while Amazon may find an adjective such as “hard-driving” to be more appropriate.
The corporate cultures of Amazon and Zappos might seem about as far away from each other as A and Z are in the alphabet, but they do have one thing in common: They’re distinctive. In her piece for HBR, Yohn noted that both companies have a clear understanding of what they do, how they do it and what kind of person is likely to excel at doing it. Organizations should also note what makes them stand out from not only their direct competitors, but from enterprises across a range of other industries as well.
“An unusual culture – even one that outsiders might criticize – is nothing to apologize for,” Yohn opined. “In fact, it’s an advantage in attracting the right people.”
In part two, we’ll take a look at how companies can optimize their employee and executive recruiting efforts to ensure the people they bring on board will be a good fit.
About Caldwell Partners
Caldwell Partners is a leading international provider of executive search and has been for more than 45 years. As one of the world’s most trusted advisors in executive search, the firm has a sterling reputation built on successful searches for boards, chief and senior executives, and selected functional experts. With offices and partners across North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific, the firm takes pride in delivering an unmatched level of service and expertise to its clients.