The success of a business (and subsequently, its CEO) tends to be judged on the basis of hard facts and numbers such as revenue, investment, product development, and innovation. These are certainly critical metrics – but if achieving success were really that simple, every business with the right assets on paper would experience exponential growth. That’s simply not the case.
As Patrick Lencioni describes in his book, The Advantage, what can truly differentiate a company and fuel extraordinary growth is Organisational Health. And the backbone of a healthy organisation is its culture. If your employees aren’t happy and fulfilled in their jobs, they can’t perform at their best. The likelihood of job turnover at an organisation with a rich organisational culture is 13.9%, compared to the 48.4% turnover in a poor company culture, according to Columbia University.
Establishing, nurturing, and protecting the right culture that both suits the business and inspires every member of the organisation, is a challenging task that requires continuous investment and energy – especially if you have a distributed workforce like we do. Done right, however, culture pays off and can have a real effect on overall business performance.
Culture is about more than perks
An office environment offering on-site playgrounds, petting zoos, and Prosecco on tap, can make anyone wish they could experience the same kinds of perks. Although ‘cool offices’ and regular social events are important for talent recruitment and retention, research has shown that employees would not necessarily prioritise these over benefits, work flexibility, and work-life balance.
This is because culture is about people, and people value things that make a real difference in their lives and the lives of those they care about, both inside and outside the office. People value purpose and alignment between their personal values and of those of the environment around them. Their jobs are often an important part of that.
Creating a collaborative, people-first culture is especially important when you have a distributed workforce. Remote work has benefits for both companies and employees, and gives people the freedom and autonomy they need, whether it’s for dropping kids off at school or going to a doctor’s appointment. But for employees to appreciate this freedom, you must have a baked-in culture to support it and consistently take measures to ensure everyone knows they are all on the same team. If not, your global workforce will feel isolated, and struggle with collaboration, productive conflict resolution, commitment, and accountability. Without these, the organisation will struggle to deliver good results.
How to create your company culture
Every company develops a culture eventually. It’s up to you to shape that culture and thoughtfully maintain it as your company grows. There are a few steps I recommend for CEOs embarking on this journey:
- Decide what your company should stand for: The first step is to be clear about what you want your company culture to be. It starts with the founders and with the mission that inspired the adventure of building a company. Codify these early on, and conduct company culture audits frequently to help identify positive behaviours that you can build upon, and destructive ones that need to be eliminated.
- Build a culture that scales: Defining a common culture and set of values gets more challenging as organisations grow and become more geographically dispersed, and as work patterns change to accommodate the ‘new mobile worker’. It’s up to leadership to ensure their vision is inclusive enough to unite different people across different parts of the world. Ultimately, regardless of cultural norms, people value working in a respectful environment, and this should be a priority. Weave your values into everything you do: talent management, resolving conflicts, awards and recognition, promotions, communications, dealing with customers, etc. Actions will speak louder than words.
- Be present and accountable: Nothing puts employees off more than having a CEO who is never around, or is too busy to listen to their ideas or concerns. Your employees are your most important asset. Make sure you give them the time they deserve and allow them to ask difficult questions regularly. For example, make yourself and your senior leadership team available for AMA (Ask Me Anything) sessions. You are the embodiment of company values, so practice what you preach.
- Encourage employees to get together: As CEO, you must continually evaluate whether employees have the right set of tools to thrive. This includes not only technology, but also opportunities for face-to-face communication. Consider hosting regular company-wide video meetings, or even further, an annual in-person gathering for team-building and collaboration.
Don’t be afraid of problems
As business leaders, we value stability and long-term planning. We are naturally biased toward avoiding challenges. But challenges and problems are the fuel for growth and maturity. Like working out muscles and bones at the gym, organisations become more robust when they encounter new challenges: a lost customer, an outage, a bug. Company culture will help you navigate these obstacles as the company evolves and becomes a better version of itself. Nurture and cultivate your culture, and challenge yourself to replace things that are no longer working. Your people – and your profits – depend on it.