Part 1: Does culture matter?

By Vijhai Utheyan

Google, Facebook, and Amazon. If you think about these companies, their culture is often one of the things you first picture. Identifying and building a strong culture has allowed them to increase efficiency, improve morale, and decrease turnover, and all this has ultimately led to greater profitability. Many leaders think culture is an abstract concept, an intangible aspect of the business that cannot be controlled. However, all these companies not only have a strong culture they intentionally created but also continue to foster.

I have become interested in the importance of culture after working in a range of organisations, including small businesses, NGO and government sectors through to large corporations. I have found that the culture really impacts how you feel about your work and the effort you put into it.

There are many strategies I have learnt about through these experiences and from reading broadly in the area that can allow an organisation to have shape their culture. In this three-part series I share about what I have learnt, including what culture is and why it matters, how some companies have dealt with the culture hurdle, and how to build a stronger culture in your organisation.

What is culture?

Culture may seem like an abstract concept and it can be hard to define.  Many companies either dismiss the idea as irrelevant or claim they already have a strong culture. However when the focus is on growth and profitability, the reality is that culture can be a last priority, particularly because it can be so hard to identify. As a result not enough founders and CEOs focus on workplace culture.

Culture is not defined by the number of beanbags and ping-pong tables in the lunchroom. Nor is it will it be automatically created through gourmet team dinners or corporate social responsibility programs. Culture is the manifestation of the shared values of the organisation – as represented by the actions of its members.

Why does culture matter?

A company that doesn’t focus on culture can leave themselves susceptible to threats. Staff retention, productivity, efficiency, sales, stakeholder engagement and quality control are just a few of the factors that are put at risk when there is a toxic culture. The right culture can make you the leaders in the sector, foster innovation and creativity, set you apart from the competition and help your company to become a dominant force.

A CBRE report found that millennials would be willing to take pay cuts up to 7% if it led to a better workplace culture. An inability to continue to attract the top minds and talent into your organisation can limit growth and profitability, so it is becoming more important than ever to understand what millennials are looking for. As millennials are projected to make up half the workforce within the next 5 years, the importance of the need to evaluate your workplace culture to future proof your company is clear.

Purpose at the core

Whether you are a founder, CEO, business executive or partner at an international firm, you need to understand that your company’s purpose is much more than pure profits or providing a product/service. It is about growing a living organism based on core values, an organism which is made up of every one of your employees and their actions. As your company grows from 2 to 10 to 100 to 1000 to 20,000, or however large it is destined to be, being involved in every decision and meeting becomes impossible.

Having a strong workplace culture aligned with a clear vision will therefore allow for efficient decision making and a consistent culture that ultimately leads to success. Without the right culture you can run the risk of high turnover rates, working within an echo chamber, lower skilled employees, flawed products and ultimately an untenable vision.

Gaia Grant (PhD) is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Sydney Business School in the Discipline of Strategy, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, focusing on research into innovation paradoxes and ambidextrous leadership. Gaia is also a Director of Tirian Innovative Solutions, & the co-author (with Andrew Grant) of a number of books including ‘The Innovation Race’, and “Who Killed Creativity?”.

Andrew Grant is the Director of Tirian Innovative Solutions, and co-author (with Dr Gaia Grant) of a number of books including ‘The Innovation Race’, and “Who Killed Creativity?”.