Culture is this elusive quality in a business that can make or break it. It can be hard to define, and even harder to cultivate, but one thing is for sure—it’s essential to the long-term success of any business.
But where does company culture come from?
In this article, we'll delve deeper into the definition of company culture and the various factors that contribute to its formation one of the most important being management.
What is Company Culture?
Generally speaking, company culture is defined as a shared set of values, goals, attitudes, and practices of a company.
It's the way people feel about their work, and the environment they work in – the way they interact with their peers and customers, and how the company handles tasks like customer service, problem-solving, and efficiency.
It has also a lot to do with values, or the alignment of the company’s vision and goals with those of its employees. Your average worker will spend about a third of their adult life in a workplace, so it's important that their core values align with what the company is trying to do.
Say you are a firm believer in sustainability and environmentalism, but the company you work for does not share those values and is solely focused on profit margins. Needless to say, it will be difficult for you to stay motivated and committed in the long run.
Similarly, if a company promotes diversity and inclusivity but there is no tangible evidence of those values reflected in the management team or day-to-day operations, then it's not likely that employees will feel that their voices are being heard.
What's important to understand is that culture is not just a set of rules and regulations. It's a living, breathing thing that requires constant nurturing and that managers must be active in cultivating.
The Role of Management in Company Culture
The thing with culture is that most companies have two: the one they say they have, and the one that actually exists.
Most organizations will say that they value collaboration, respect, and innovation, for example. But in reality, their culture may be characterized by silos, cliques, and a lack of communication between departments.
Say a company publicly claims to have an open-door policy, but in reality, their employees feel too intimidated to approach their superiors. This is a discrepancy that can be attributed to the lack of strong leadership within the organization.
So leaders will either act as the custodians of an organization’s values, or they will let those values slip away until the company culture is no longer recognizable.
How to Foster the Right Culture
There are hundreds, if not thousands of guides and blog posts on "how to create a positive company culture," and you'll find useful tips in all of them, but if there's one common thread that runs through all of these pieces, it's this: the importance of management when it comes to building a strong and lasting culture.
Leaders are your superheroes, your guardians of culture, and they're the ones who have the power to set the tone for an organization.
And don't let the third-person narrative mislead you - because "leadership" or "management" does not have the same definition in every organization.
Setting up the Right Culture in Small Companies
Let's start with the somewhat easier scenario - a small company with a few employees. In this case, it's the founder who is solely responsible for the culture.
What makes this the easier setup, is that the CEO is both the source of the company’s values and the implementer of them.
So if you value workplace transparency and open communication, for example, and want that to be a part of your company culture, you should easily be able to showcase that by walking the talk, leading by example, and encouraging your team to do the same.
And once you have established your core values, and the company grows, you'll be the one hiring new employees or promoting them to managers, and can therefore make sure that they embody the same values.
But at a certain point that might no longer be in your hands, which brings us to our next scenario.
Setting up the Right Culture in Large Companies
Now, let's move on to a larger setup - one with 200+ employees. These types of companies usually have larger hierarchies in place and leadership no longer means just one person who's in charge, but rather a combination of teams, departments, and managers.
And even though all of them will impact the culture of the company - whether they want to or not - not all of them have the same level or type of influence.
Different Roles for Different Managers
You'll still have the CEO or other members of the executive team at the top of the hierarchy, and they’ll be responsible for setting the values, but they won't be the only ones setting the tone.
In these settings, your frontline manager will be the one who will be fostering the company culture and making sure it is implemented among the team.
Moreover, managers can have an even greater impact if they become "culture champions" within their departments - people who are actively engaged in promoting the right values among team members.
The hiring process is also no longer in the hands of just one person, so it becomes essential to have a clear understanding of the company culture that you want and need to maintain - and then make sure that this is reflected in the hiring process.
Fostering Culture in Ever-Growing Companies
The larger the company, the more influence middle management will (or rather should) have on the culture. Why?
Because eventually, the company will reach a point where the CEO and other members of the executive team are no longer able to directly interact with each individual employee or department.
This will not only make it impossible for them to actively participate in the culture, but it could also lead to a disconnect between those at the top and those on the ground.
New Ages come with New Requirements
What used to define a healthy workplace culture in the past might not be as relevant today.
Gen Z has been entering the workforce for years now, according to Gallup most young workers don't feel a close connection to their coworkers, manager, or employer. This does have more than one cause but corporate culture is definitely one of them.
Younger generations simply value different things. Whereas boomers and older millennials value stability, job security, and even team spirit, Gen Z is more about autonomy, creativity, and purpose.