Many upstart companies and even well-established ones focus heavily on how the public perceives their brands. The laser-like attention on brand perception is understandable as it plays a major role in a company’s success. Negative views of a brand can drastically impact sales and take years, lots of effort and an extensive marketing budget to turn around. The inverse is also true, with customers more likely to buy from brands they view positively. And those same customers are also more apt to be repeat ones.
While public perception of your brand plays a huge role in determining its success, there is also an often-overlooked factor that is just as critical. And it has nothing to do with how people outside of your company perceive it but instead with the people inside it. Forgetting about the culture within your company is a surefire way to doom it to low morale, transitory employees and lackluster sales. One commonality that unites a wide array of high-performing companies is their strong company cultures. It is the secret sauce that can separate you from your competitors. But what is company culture, and why is it so important? Let’s take a look.
WHAT IS COMPANY CULTURE?
Company culture is often a nebulous term that is sometimes misunderstood. Some mistake the benefits packages they offer or perks as being key to it. Others think making an office “fun” will suffice to build an effective company culture. And company values also get intermingled with or mistaken for its culture. Check out this article to understand the difference between the two. But company culture goes beyond all of that and can be both simple and complex at the same time.
In the most simplistic terms, company culture is how people within an organization interact with each other and work together. Where things get murkier is that sometimes a company’s stated culture differs dramatically from its actual one. This happens in many companies with weaker cultures and is often not even recognized by employees or managers. In larger corporations, there can even be different cultures within various departments or divisions, complicating things further. And company culture can sometimes grow organically if left unmanaged and morph into something undesired.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Company culture matters because there is a direct correlation between companies with a strong culture and performance. According to Mckenzie’s Organizational Health Index study, companies with top-quartile cultures post a return to shareholders 60% higher than the median and 200% higher than those in the bottom quartile. But you shouldn’t need an in-depth analysis by the hard-working boffins at Mckenzie to tell you that the formula for that success is simplistic. A strong and positive company culture leads to happier and more productive employees. One only has to look at today’s headlines to see the opposite effect as certain CEOs go about unwittingly or wittingly damaging company culture and its impact on performance.
IT’S HARD TO MAKE AND REPLICATE
Another reason company culture is important is that it can give your brand a significant competitive advantage. Creating the right company culture takes time, knowledge and much effort. It is not easy or quick, and some companies fail miserably at it. This might make it seem daunting or not worth the effort, but the huge plus is that it is not easy to copy or replicate. Like a secret sauce, your company culture was developed and manufactured in-house. And unlike that sauce, it is impossible to reverse engineer or smuggle out to a different company. This means that you will have more productive and happier employees than competitors that have failed or not paid attention to company culture. In turn, that leads to your company offering better products or services, more satisfied customers and increased revenue over the competition.
Company culture also plays a critical role in attracting top talent and retaining skilled employees. The pandemic created a seismic shift in how employees look at work. Most are no longer satisfied with simply collecting a paycheck but want to work for companies with a brand, mission, values and culture that resonate with them. These combined often play a more significant role than compensation packages or 401K offerings for most prospective hires when deciding what companies to work for. Satisfied employees also become brand ambassadors for your company, referring friends or colleagues to open positions. According to a Gallup article that explores the subject, 71% of workers now use referrals from current employees to learn about job opportunities making the brand ambassador role a powerful one in finding talent. And a strong company culture creates happy employees that are more likely to stay in those positions once hired.
THRIVES ON CHANGE
Another often-overlooked benefit of high-performing company culture is that it creates flexibility and thrives on change. If the roller-coaster ride of the last few years has taught us anything, companies must be able to rapidly adapt to survive. Unhealthy company cultures are usually the exact opposite being extremely rigid and resistant to any transformation. This leaves them unable to get out of their own way or even recognize the need for change. And slow movers are often outmaneuvered by companies that can quickly make external and internal changes. A lack of or poor company culture doesn’t just impact your brand’s performance but can kill it entirely.
“We have always prided ourselves on having a strong company culture, but what that actually means has evolved significantly over the years,” said Dan Kahn, president and founder of Kahn Media. “For years it could have been warmly described as hustle or grind culture, where everyone was expected to just be tough and work hard. Not all that different from any other company I suppose. But what I have learned from our staff, and by extension what has transformed the way we treat each other within the company, is that by creating an environment that reinforces teamwork, allows team members to feel comfortable sharing not only wins but challenges, and by allowing staff to learn and express themselves as they grow in a role, they actually become more motivated and adapt a stronger work ethic in return.”
HOW TO BUILD COMPANY CULTURE
The essential element to remember about developing a strong company culture is that it’s a journey. You cannot relegate it to human resources or put out a brief memo on it. Creating the right culture for your brand doesn’t happen overnight but takes hard work, time and leadership at all levels. And it also takes diligent maintenance to ensure that the culture you want at your brand is the actual one that develops. But it is worth the effort as having the right culture is truly transformational for your brand.
Any story that supplies you with a quickie checklist of how-to items for developing company culture is doing you a disservice, as it isn’t that simple. We won’t do that, but we can provide some vital components for creating a strong and positive company culture. And they are important no matter the size of the company or its focus.
COMMUNICATION IS TWO-WAY
The first is that communication is the cornerstone of building an effective company culture. Many fail in viewing that communication as one shot and one way. Yes, it is important that brands clearly communicate about their culture but posting it on an intranet and doing nothing more is pointless. To build a high-performing culture, leaders need to talk with their employees and not just at them. And this applies to any employee regardless of their position on an organizational chart. Many can give valuable insight into ways to increase productivity and the challenges they face. And it is often the front-facing employees lower on an org chart that can provide the best feedback. But you have to listen to them, and doing so shows you value their input and them as employees. Listening is an essential skill that has been forgotten by many.
“I’ve found that approaching your team in an open, honest and transparent way can literally transform the way your company operates,” Kahn said. “I try to meet with every employee one on one every month, with no agenda other than to ask how are you doing, and what can I do to help you? I learn so much from those answers. Employees talk about everything from their personal experiences at the company to challenges they see in our process to things happening at home and how that effects their overall life. Watercooler conversations are much tougher in an era when many people are working from home, but that connectivity is critical to engagement.”
Transparency is also a critical part of a strong and supportive company culture. No, you shouldn’t share every employee detail or corporate strategy with your employees. There are always some things that need to be kept close to the vest, but the more transparent you can be, the better. Sharing your thoughts on your vision for the company, the challenges it currently faces and future plans get everyone on the same page. It enables employees to work toward a common goal and empowers them by feeling a more significant purpose beyond completing everyday tasks. This helps boost morale and productivity and builds trust and loyalty among your employees. Being dishonest and overly secretive with your employees will not produce a desirable company culture.
INVEST IN YOUR EMPLOYEES
Companies that view their employees as being completely replaceable or as nothing more than drains on revenue will always have poor cultures and be underperformers. Employees are the most valuable assets, and the top brands recognize this by investing in them. Most think of this investment as only consisting of perks, vacation days and other benefits, but it goes beyond that. Those are necessary for attracting talent, but employees also want to see you are invested in them as people. Showing you understand their need for a work/life balance goes a long way. Hiring empathetic and supportive managers instead of harsh and punitive ones shows your employees that you care about their well-being. Treating people like humans creates a positive and supportive work culture and happy employees. While old-school bosses more akin to Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons” might worry about being too soft, study after study shows happier and higher-morale employees are always more productive.
“While we have employed some standard tech company style perks in the past like free snacks and a monthly masseuse, I’ve found that the most effective way to ensure employee happiness is to look them in the eye, ask them how they’re feeling, and then offer a hand to help or the patience and grace to listen if they need to talk,” Kahn said. “That was a tough lesson learned over the years, but particularly in high-pressure work environments, giving people the opportunity to talk about challenges and ways to potentially solve them is far more effective at lifting morale than traditional perks and our overall employee happiness has skyrocketed since adopting that philosophy.”
HIRE THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Hiring the wrong person is one way to torpedo a carefully constructed company culture. Many look at hard skills when hiring, but soft skills are increasingly becoming more critical for companies that take company culture seriously. An employee can be brought up to speed on a computer program, but it is almost impossible to change their personality traits or interpersonal skills. If hiring people expected to be leaders, it is vital to do your due diligence and see if they are a good match for your company’s culture. Even lower-level employees can damage a company’s culture if not properly vetted. Take your time and hire the right people instead of being in a rush to fill a position. Whether trying to protect a company culture or craft one, having the right people on your team is critical.
WE CAN HELP
At Kahn Media, we can’t create a company culture for you as it isn’t something that should be outsourced. But we can help free up some of the time and focus it will take to create an effective one by handling other critical tasks. We are a full-service integrated marketing agency that excels at content creation, social media management, digital marketing, traditional and hybrid public relations, influencer relations, event management, photography, graphic design and videography. Our team of experts can act as a turn-key marketing department for your brand at a cost often lower than hiring your own. Contact us to see how we can position your brand for success while you focus on building your company’s culture.