What is company culture?

Company culture is an important part of the workplace. A great company culture doesn’t just ‘happen’, however. It’s something that needs mindful work in itself. Great company culture is a product of design, and of collective effort.

A culture is the unspoken social fabric of a business, which, if ignored, can create divides in the workplace. Poor company culture manifests in ‘office politics’, cliques and a toxic atmosphere. A company’s culture is individual to every business. When aligned with personal values it inspires and drives innovation.

 

“If you want to build a ship,
don’t drum up the people
to gather wood, divide the
work, and give orders.

Instead, teach them to yearn
for the vast and endless sea.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (The Little Prince)

Company culture is the invisible intangible stuff that makes or breaks all businesses in the long run. It doesn’t even have to be that the culture is particularly bad. But think, a business with an ‘okay’ culture is almost never the market leader. It isn’t something that can put aside for two years and revisit it when you might have a bit more time. It’s something that requires your focus and time, now.

It’s important to understand that good company cultures aren’t created naturally. They are products of planning and effort. They require thought.

The traditional model for business culture

Throughout the world, business cultures vary from country to country. Different places have different priorities. In Japan, for example, respect of older generations is a big part of the workplace, while in the UK, there’s a lot of emphasis on politeness and professionalism.

In the UK, many businesses don’t realise the importance of good company culture and will refer to this as ‘building bridges’. For most of us, we don’t work separated by a river running through the office. Company cultures matter and they go beyond tired metaphors. A bad culture can cripple a company.

But, what defines a bad culture?

Characteristics of a bad company culture

A bad company culture can be difficult to identify as everyone has different perspectives about the best way to run a business. A classic sign is poor staff retention rates. Even if the pay is decent, most people won’t stay long in a company with an unpleasant atmosphere.

Some characteristics of a bad company culture are:

  • High percentage of redundancies and/or dismissals
  • Amount of work-related stress absence
  • Management focusing on short-term profit over a long-term vision
  • Lack of or poor internal communication between staff
  • Lack of empathy between leadership, management and workers
  • Micromanagement of staff, demonstrating there is no trust from managers
  • A competitive atmosphere is encouraged between colleagues
  • Inefficient management of people and processes
  • Hyper-awareness of competitors and ‘beating’ other businesses

Business brand and company culture

A common tactic for businesses looking to develop a ‘culture’ is that they try to derive their business values from their brand. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing to do, however many organisations don’t delve deep enough into developing those values. Most businesses define their brand by the services or products they sell, with their culture as a ‘gap-filler’. It’s an after-thought.

Really, a company’s culture should be at the centre of the process, with brand serving a slightly different purpose. Still, brand should be an extension of culture, because it is a proven way to attract loyal customers:

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Simon Sinek

A great business culture comes from the people, but it has to be an effort led by the C-suite. A CEO must be the guiding force behind culture by constantly ensuring it is a priority, and by demonstrating the business values as an example to employees. With a small business this is relatively straight-forward, however with larger businesses it becomes more complex.

However, for both SMBs and large enterprises, at a basic level, you need to address 3 main factors:

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Vision

Your need a vision or purpose that people will follow and believe in. This can be further developed into a set of core values.

Management

You need supporting internal structures and consistent management training to improve relationships, trust and empathy.

Recruitment

You need to make sure you are hiring the right people, and not allowing toxic influences to ruin your business. Remember, a high performer with a bad personal culture is more dangerous than a low performer.

A bad culture can create deep rifts within workplaces, but its reaches can go beyond the office. Many people experience depression, anxiety and a host of work-related stresses that can affect their whole life:

“When companies have a poor culture, 48.4% employees start looking for a job.”

Will a good company culture be better for business?

In one word, absolutely! A good company culture doesn’t just help your business operate in the day-to-day, customers will notice a good culture and will be more encouraged to do business with you rather than a competitor, regardless of cost differences, for two reasons:

  • They will want to invest in your vision as it resonates with their own values.
  • Happiness is a shared experience. It will naturally rub off on your customers, making them loyal evangelists for your business.

Just think. We all feel uncomfortable when we hear the same hard sell techniques or insincerity in a salesperson’s voice. They could be making wild promises or claims, or skirting around issues. You can tell in your gut that something is off. But if you, as a buyer, hear genuine kindness and sincerity, then you feel that intuitively, too. Customers want to talk to real people, and they want to be treated in kind. This interaction is more than likely going to be driven by the culture that underpins it.

  • 75% of employees say they’ll stay longer at a company that listens to their feedback and addresses their concerns.”
  • “Data collected over a ten-year period of employee engagement surveys and company results showed that companies with an engaged culture have 30% greater customer satisfaction levels.”

Where has company culture made a difference?

Netflix

Netflix has developed a company culture that embraces their employees’ talents and gives them the freedom to explore independent thought and innovation. They put great effort into their hiring procedures. In turn, they only hire people with great potential and personalities that ‘fit’ with their culture. They design their business around these five key statements, which are requirements for new hires, saying, ‘At Netflix, we:

  1. Encourage independent decision-making by employees;
  2. Share information openly, broadly, and deliberately;
  3. Are extraordinarily candid with each other;
  4. Keep only our highly effective people;
  5. Avoid rules.’

This has created an environment for self-sufficient, motivated, free-thinking individuals to thrive. They have the space to collaborate and create an entertainment engine, with forward-thinking change at the heart of the business.

Every business wants highly motivated, self-sufficient employees, but most aren’t prepared to make the radical changes necessary to get these results. Are you?

Google

How about another example. Google is well-known as a trend setter when it comes to their company culture. Most of us have heard of their free food, nap pods and various other staff benefits, however it runs much deeper than what we see on the surface. ‘Perks’ does not equal ‘culture’.

Google focuses on the human element throughout their business. It’s felt in the way they have chosen to develop their search engine as well as their numerous other projects.

The Google search engine is being made not just user-friendly but human-friendly, regardless of language, location and age. With each iteration and development, they aim to improve the experience of the human searcher.

Understanding how we think as humans is critical to understanding the reason behind such an effective search engine. This is something Google does better than any other, and they continue to research and develop new ways to link people to information.

For Google, a company culture is made easier to create with large profit margins and access to world-class knowledge on the subject, however sticking by their ultimate purpose or vision has paved the way to success:

“To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – Google’s Vision

For everyone who works at Google search, this is the big goal. The ikegai. The raison d’etre. The reason for being.

The ongoing journey of company culture

Just like any culture, business or otherwise, social and technological changes will have an effect. A company culture is a constant effort that needs your attention. Eventually people will leave, or your business will grow, or an event will shake up the ways of working. With new employees and the changing social and technological world you will need to keep your values and vision aligned. This is why you’ll see so many IT companies talking about holistic digital transformation. Culture matters.

The best ways to maintain a company culture is consistent:

  • Training (emotional intelligence & communication)
  • Group workshops
  • Personal development programs
  • Development of hiring procedures
  • Vision and values meetings
  • Transparency of information
  • Aligning of company benefits with needs

Creativity & Company culture

The world of business and creativity have been linked from the start, however what is the link between a good company culture and creativity? At Mindfulness Design, we believe everyone is creative.

Creativity, and, in turn, innovation, starts in the minds of people who have enjoyed the freedom to explore new ways of thinking and have the environment that enables them to express it. Too often, ‘professionalism’ and classic office workplaces result in non-creative environments which leads to an unmotivated team.

So, don’t be afraid of doing things different. Experiment with more than just office layouts. If you’re a business owner, think about what the newest intern would do to promote creativity in your workplace. Don’t let the environment become stagnant – keep iterating. Probably the boldest changes businesses are making is changing working hours from five days to four while paying the same wage. Or, giving employees the flexibility to choose their own schedule and plan their work around their hobbies and passions. Seems idealistic, however studies indicate such radical changes result in an increase in productivity and improvements in wellbeing of all employees.

Mindfulness and work-life balance

Many people relate the phrase ‘work-life balance’ to spiritual tech start-ups or life coaches. Surely not something a serious business needs to worry about. But, a work-life balance is simply managing your homelife, hobbies, family time and work in a way that best creates an environment for good mental health. Work-life balance is difficult to deploy within a business because it requires an understanding of employee needs. If you’re interested, some topics worth learning about are:

  • Emotion intelligence
  • Reflective reasoning
  • Phenomenology
  • Ontology
  • Empathic communication
  • Mindfulness practices

Emotional intelligence

Is emotional intelligence just a social skill? Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage your own emotions and develop an understanding of others’ emotions. Managing your own emotions isn’t the same as blocking or supressing them, but instead allowing yourself to feel and work through them.

We all can manage our emotions to some extent, however emotion intelligence is about digging to the root causes of our feelings to better understand them. Understanding the origins to your own emotions provides you with the insight to make effective changes both in life and at work.

Communication in the workplace

Effective workplace communication is an essential part of every business; however, it isn’t just something that can form naturally. Communication is something that can cripple productivity if a business does not consistently make efforts to keep it alive. Yes – that includes casual chatting around the watercooler and instant messaging.

Unfortunately, schools and universities are still in their infancy when it comes to teaching people empathetic communication, so it’s not a surprise that within businesses tensions and “workplace disagreements” are common. No-one has been formally taught these skills beyond a basic level. In almost all businesses, for example, it’s a well-known phenomenon that most people dislike their bosses or managers. It’s not true always, but almost everyone has had an experience with the dreaded ‘bad boss’.

Most managers are recruited based on years of experience within an industry, and usually start as a skilled or even unskilled hand. Or, they come straight from a graduate role. It’s standard that managers are given basic training into how to be an organiser and handle their role, however managers almost never have any form of emotional intelligence training. A critical part of becoming a manager is earning the loyalty of those in the team, and that involves getting a bit personal.

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Mindfulness in work

Mindfulness is the practice of keeping your attention held in the present moment. This is usually achieved through methods like meditation, yoga and thought exercises. Mindfulness in work is about being able to manage and handle stress when it occurs, and developing business structures to support employees’ mental states.

Mindfulness at work can be useful from both an individual and business perspective. For an individual, mindfulness can help you focus and reduce stress. From a business perspective, mindfulness will improve creativity and resilience to stress among employees. Also, it helps to improve overall happiness for staff and bolsters working relationships and collaboration.

Mindfulness is a great basis for growing a company culture as it provides an environment for developing relationships and gives people mental space to think about themselves and work. Creativity is greatly improved with the application of mindfulness at work, with just simple activities such as meditation and nature walks.

Human-centred design (HCD) and company culture development

So where does design come into company culture? Human-centred design focuses on the human experience when developing ideas and consistently refers to established core values. With the adaptation of human-centred design for company culture development, at Mindfulness Design we are able to offer business culture development workshops.

Human-centred design encompasses principles of mindfulness, emotional intelligence and communication within a set of design thinking processes. It has already been proven as an effective method for creating company cultures that improve working standards with in morale and productivity. Don’t just take this on our word, check out what other businesses are doing.

At Mindfulness Design, we specialise in use and application of HCD through our workshops, toolkit and structured consultation sessions, all developed to help your business find a more human way of doing business.

54% of employees who are proud of their company’s impact on the world were shown to be more engaged in their work.”

Culture is transformative. Be the example.