You probably already heard and read about company culture, but it may still be unclear to you what it exactly is. That is because a thing like the culture is not something tangible and you can not easily put it into words. It bases around common values a group of people shares.
There are many source materials you can find on company culture, but we will try to add our own two cents based on personal experience.
How we see it
To illustrate in simple terms how we see company culture, let’s imagine the following scenario:
A farmer wants to sell flour and for that, he needs to grow corn. To grow corn, he needs to have the right soil and weather conditions.
In this example, you can think of flour as the company’s product, the corn as the company’s employees, and soil as the company culture. To produce a great product, you need the right people to commit to it, and for those people to thrive you need to cultivate the right culture suitable to their needs.
The right way of doing things is highly subjective. While it is true that not every plant can grow on any soil, it is also true that not every farmer wants to sell the same thing. Once you have a clear vision of your company’s future, it becomes more apparent what type of employees you need and what type of culture they need to sustain them.
Why is it so important?
Company culture defines important aspects of the work environment. If you don’t fit, coming to work will be stressful. When people think about quitting their job, it mostly has nothing to do with the tasks at hand. It probably has more to do with how they feel when working with their colleagues. If interacting with your colleagues causes constant friction, it will most likely wear you down. Like Muhammad Ali said, “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out, it’s the pebble in your shoe.”
On the other hand, when people feel happy, they will make their colleagues feel good too, creating a positive feedback loop motivating everyone to do their best.
Another aspect is decision making. Employees make small decisions every day in their work life. If there is an established culture in the company, it can help them decide with the company’s values in mind. You could be a developer-facing a dilemma to write code that will execute fast but will be hard to understand by others or execute slower but will be easier to maintain. By thinking about your company culture and what values it favours, you can have a much easier time making the right decision. Is your company culture guided by a statement “Performance overall.“, or is it “Keeping things organised.”?
Establishing a company culture is hard
We all probably agree on everything read in online articles about company culture, but when it comes to implementing it, things get hard. It is because company culture is not established the moment we write something down (decide on things and write them down), it comes to life only once everyone starts to feel it.
Here is an example from when I have worked in a large IT company:
One day we attended a presentation about company culture. A high-level manager, that was mostly unknown to us developers, held the presentation. He talked about what work environment the company strives to achieve and he gave us 13 different guides we should think about in our daily routine. He encouraged us to use those guides in our daily communication in order for everyone to get familiar with them. For example, a colleague sends me an email asking me to help him to which I respond with a solution and also put a guide number 7 “No man left behind.” at the bottom of the email.
Even though the idea was well-meant and we all agreed that the guides made sense, it did not last long. A high-level manager giving us that presentation was an attempt to build a culture overnight. It failed because it is hard to convey certain feelings to a group of people you have just met.
The only way you can truly establish a culture is by example. You do not need anything written down, just communicate well and be authentic. It takes longer to build a strong culture throughout the deepest parts of your organisation, but the benefits are overwhelming.
If my father were to read this article, he would probably comment something like: “The folks today only think about having fun. A job is not supposed to be fun, it is hard work that you do so you can feed your family.”
Our parents grew up in times where manual labour was the most accessible type of work. Your performance was measured just by how many boxes you moved. Going to work was a necessary evil to pay your bills. This, of course, is a generalisation and I am sure some people felt different, but the point is that times have changed.
Something that took 50 people to do in a day, modern machinery does in an hour. More and more jobs keep disappearing while new ones emerge.
The shift from manual labour is happening towards a more creative type of work where just an idea can make a billion-dollar difference. Who would have known that one day people would earn money by posting pictures, playing games, reviewing things, etc?
It becomes more and more important to create a work environment where creative ideas and collaboration can spark.
Simon Sinek said, “If you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business.” and he is right. We can not think about employees as just a bunch of people doing their job. We have to understand where they are coming from and what motivates them. Setting the right culture will attract the right people making them feel like a part of something bigger than themselves, and at that point, any hurdle becomes just a new opportunity to prove the rest of the world how great they are as a team.