The Power of Workplace Culture

by Alec Broadfoot

What is workplace culture?

Not long ago, most business leaders didn’t give serious thought to workplace culture (also known as organizational culture or company culture). Last year, ‘workplace culture’ was the most popular phrase of the year, according to Merriam-Webster. Perhaps the reason it is so frequently searched on is not only its growing importance[1], but also the fact that there is no universally accepted definition of what workplace culture is.

Here’s a working definition I like:

Workplace culture refers to the values, behaviors, beliefs and principles of an organization. It also encompasses the personality and the people within that organization. An organization’s culture is greatly influenced by the personality, values, and traits of the organization’s leaders.

The quote “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” is frequently attributed to business management guru Peter Drucker.[i] But what does it mean? It doesn’t mean that culture is more important than strategy, but rather that strategy developed without consciousness of company culture will be ineffective. An effective strategy builds on your organization’s cultural strengths and takes into consideration cultural quirks and weaknesses.

Initially regarded by many as “fluffy”, culture is now widely understood to be a strategic business imperative. Whether there is M&A or another internal transition, or if it’s simply to gain a competitive advantage, nurturing a winning company culture has repeatedly shown to make a serious impact on business outcomes.

The benefits of a positive workplace culture include:

  • Improved engagement, productivity, and profitability
  • Easier to attract and retain talent
  • Greater degree of innovation
  • Better customer service
  • Stronger company brand

Not so fluffy, right?

How do you leverage your company’s culture?

First, assess your existing culture and understand what it means to your employees. What does your team love about working with your company? What do they think makes your organization special and unique? This is especially important because some employees may have a different perspective than leadership. If you hope to shift your culture in another direction, what is their resistance/tolerance level?

Second, assess your organizational mission, business strategy, vision, and values. Are they aligned with your corporate culture? It’s important to be consistent and deliberate with who you are as a company and to weave that thread throughout the hiring and orientation process, communications, corporate decisions—even termination. This cohesiveness and clarity helps attract and retain individuals who fit with your culture.

Third, figure out where you need to make improvements, and what is worth shining a spotlight on to let others know about. 41% of candidates research a company’s culture before deciding to apply (The Talent Board). Do you have a good workplace culture? Promote it! Use it to market your company and advertise your open positions.

Fourth, lead. As a leader, the responsibility to create a positive workplace culture rests with you. Listen to your employees on the frontline and empower them to voice and implement their ideas. Be consistent and model your desired culture. Make sure that your team is connected to each other and the organizational culture.

What if your workplace culture has a problem?

Culture drives the performance that delivers your business outcomes, and your culture is largely driven by your leadership (Waterstone).

If leadership provides a cultural vacuum, employees fill the vacuum.

When leadership provides a dysfunctional or inconsistent environment, that shapes the culture too. If, as a leader, you fail to actively create a positive culture, you still have a culture, even if it is one that doesn’t help your company.

Poor workplace culture is the inverse of a positive culture. Instead of attracting great talent, it repels them. Instead of retaining good employees, it encourages them to leave. Those who stay are less engaged, less productive, less likely to champion the brand and build relationships leading to new growth. All of this hurts your bottom line and your business reputation.

When you have a poor culture, the only way for you to attract employees is by paying higher than market wages. Even so, if the negative culture does not improve, those employees won’t stay. Thus, you only attract people who need a short-term position before they move on to a better place.

How can you correct a negative culture?

If your culture is flailing, evaluate your company leaders, managers, and front-line supervisors on their core values. Determine whether you have the right people in the right seats (via an Achiever Assessment).

Follow the four steps outlined above on how to leverage your corporate culture, weaving your company’s personality into your job descriptions, interview process, and hiring strategy.

Only hire candidates who adhere to your core values. For example, try asking this question in the interview process: “Please describe your current (most recent) manager and coworkers.” If they state anything negative, do not allow them to continue in the process.

For your current employees, start conversations about your culture, listen to them, and get them invested in turning your culture around and being part of a better version of your organization.

Spread the word—investing in culture works!

Has your valuation of workplace culture changed in recent years? Are you infusing your culture into your hiring process? If cultural development helps your organization, share this post and let others know how it can help their business too.

[1] 82% of respondents to the 2016 Deloitte Global Capital Trends survey believed that culture is a potential competitive advantage for employers.

[i] Others have noted the origin of the quote appears to be Mark Fields of Ford Motor Company in 2006, who attributed it to Peter Drucker, though no one has found that exact quote from Drucker. The idea that culture trumped strategy appears to have been common at the time and said by many, including Drucker. The specific phrase “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” may have been a new spin on this concept by Fields.


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