The mystery of company culture

Organizations must approach company culture with a careful strategy.

Company culture has quickly become one of the most coveted traits of leading organizations. Businesses across industries are increasingly invested in creating, maintaining and refining their office culture. According to The Harvard Business Review, great culture (combined with great people) is deeply tied to some of the highest performing companies in the game.

In fact, a PWC Strategy& survey of over 2,000 corporate managers, reported on by LinkedIn Pulse contributor Rebecca Neufeld, revealed that 84 percent of participants believe culture to be a critical component of business success. An impressive 60 percent of respondents even ranked culture as more important than strategy within their organization.

Despite its desirable nature, culture is something many leaders struggle to define. Its place within a company is undeniable but its creation, development and overall upkeep remain a topic of contention. What roles do leaders play in culture? How do employees help build culture? How do organizations build and then scale a truly exceptional culture?

“Businesses are invested in creating, maintaining and refining company culture.”

The stakes are high when it comes to nailing down the correct answers to these questions. According to HBR, cultures function much like a newly-launched rocket ship. If the trajectory is off from the start then the orbit will only continue to deteriorate over time. Cultures that have strayed from the intended path are difficult (at best) to turn around.

However, before leaders can start spearheading a shift to either create or refresh a company culture, they must have a definitive and meaningful understanding of what roles both executives and employees play in the realm of company culture.

An executive undertaking
As with any major undertaking, company culture requires executive buy-in. Entrepreneur Magazine reported that permeating cultures can only truly exist when there is a clearly defined and communicated set of principles dictating that culture coming from the C-suite.

When businesses develop a relaxed approach toward culture the end result is often a disjointed cultural identity. While many people view culture as an abstract concept, when it comes to business it must be approached like any other organizational system – with a clearly defined set of principles and expectations.

Without a strategic framework in place, organizations run the risk of clashing sub-cultures. According to Entrepreneur, this creates an environment highly susceptible to in-fighting, office politics and competing leadership philosophies. When a business houses multiple (and clashing) cultural identities, it might as well not have a culture at all.

The takeaway? Leaders must define and refine culture with a firm hand. This does not mean executives need to take an undemocratic approach to culture rather that they need to make sure cultural frameworks are strategically defined and clearly communicated with their entire team. Culture isn’t a matter of chance, it is a carefully crafted business narrative – don’t let it run loose.

“Teams need to believe in the culture and want to enforce it on behalf of the organization.”

The role of the team
While executives must strategically define culture, it is up to their teams to apply these values and visions to everyday life in the office. Without the acceptance of employees, culture will stand as a projected vision at best. For organizations with murky culture, staff buy-in is crucial. Teams need to believe in the culture and want to enforce it on behalf of the organization.

According to Entrepreneur, teams are more likely to accept new company cultures when they play a critical role in shaping the framework. While this doesn’t mean every single employee will get a say in the end result, executives should put a premium on asking their team what they believe the current culture is and in what ways they would like that to change or stay the same.

In essence, employees arguably play a more critical role in culture than executives. When culture is a strictly enforced policy handed down from the professionals at the top, culture will 1) not truly reflect the full spectrum of the company 2) stick. Employees are the drivers of culture, they can bring culture to life or quickly shoot it down. Executives must give their team freedom to help shape and propel culture forward while still defining the framework clearly.

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.