At one point in time, we at Staffing Proxy were scratching our heads to come up with a good definition for organization culture. We ended up reaching out to an expert, Rob Maxwell, Cofounder of Keystone Medical Group. When we asked him to define organization culture, this is what he told us:
Culture encompasses the values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of a business. This is a great definition, and this description appears in several culture-related books.
I would like to add to this: In my experience, culture is the vibe or energy of the company. That vibe is ever-present, and you can feel it – either as a customer/patient or as an employee.
He went on to say:
I remember someone telling me years ago that the moment a customer leaves a particular business, they already know whether they will be back by the time the door closes behind them. I believe that organizational culture makes up 80+% of this decision.
In those paragraphs, Maxwell expressed some important things (and he did so very succinctly, we might add). First off, he gave us a really good definition for the term organization culture, and secondly, he offered one concrete reason why this is important. As Maxwell told us, 80% or more of a customer or client’s decision to return comes down to culture.
That’s a great place to start a conversation about culture, but let’s talk through some more reasons why culture is critical to the success of any organization.
Your culture defines your brand identity.
There are a million little things that contribute to the brand identity of an organization. If you have a savvy marketing team, many of these are managed very carefully. Does your logo’s font choice radiate boldness? Do the colors you use impact people emotionally? Do your emails read crisply, and with confidence? Does your social media output display a deep knowledge of topics that affect your industry or clientele?
All those things matter, so we won’t pretend they aren’t important. However, your organization culture matters so much more. If your design team has done their work, people might corelate your logo with your company. But on another level, people will always correlate their own personal experiences with your organization, regardless of whether or not they could pick out your logo in a crowd.
If someone walks into, say, a grocery store and the atmosphere feels tense, they might get the impression that the company has a culture of being uptight. If instead, the atmosphere feels laid back, that person might think of that store as having a laid-back culture. Either of these things could be seen as a strength or a weakness, depending on industry and target demographic.
This atmosphere doesn’t spring up out of nowhere. Atmosphere is cultivated. If you’re putting too much pressure on your employees, the atmosphere will naturally feel tense. If your employees are made to feel like family, the atmosphere will naturally feel more welcoming.
As Chris Cavanaugh points out in an insightful blog post on the Freeman website, a brand experience is a customer’s personal story in connection with that brand. Good stories make for good brand experiences, while bad stories lead to that relationship being cut short.
To that we’ll add that culture is the backdrop for every one of the stories he’s talking about.
Your culture solidifies or weakens your core values.
Let’s say one of your company’s core values is, “Creating opportunities where they didn’t exist before.” Now let’s say your work environment is cutthroat, where executives regularly stab each other in the back like they’re living out an episode of Game of Thrones. These two things are in contrast with each other, and the behavior inside your boardroom conflicts with the message behind the core value.
On the other hand, let’s say one of your core values is, “Helping people help themselves,” and your company culture is built around self-improvement and upward mobility. In that case, your behavior is in alignment with your core values.
It’s important to note that in both examples (which we should mention are fictional examples off the tops of our heads), the behavior is what defines the company’s culture, not the core values. Core values are meaningless platitudes if you don’t live them out. Your clients are smart enough to work that out, and so are your employees.
And the behavior inside your organization – especially that of high-ranking individuals – defines the culture that your employees and customers/clients perceive. In fact, when your behavior doesn’t match the core values you espouse, people will decide that your brand isn’t trustworthy. And trust that has been betrayed is a very difficult thing to earn back.
Your culture is a key part of becoming an employer of choice.
We’ve written a great deal about becoming an employer of choice. For the sake of brevity, we’ll just reiterate that an employer of choice is an employer that commands respect, not just in their industry but in the eyes of the world. An employer of choice will be a top pick for job seekers. Talent will come to you rather than you reaching out to find them.
We can’t overstate the importance of culture here. The key values of an employer of choice are: consistency, creativity, competitiveness, innovation, flexibility, adaptability. You can see how all six of those things intersect with company culture in major ways.
Is your company culture consistent, or do employees struggle with ever-shifting priorities and policies? Is your culture creative, or do you discourage employees from thinking outside the box? Do you think about flexibility and adaptability when making key decisions for the organization?
Becoming an employer of choice is a long, arduous road, but it’s something every organization should be striving toward. By focusing on the six key values listed above, you’re on your way to cultivating an environment where this goal could become a reality.
If you’ve never thought about your organization’s culture, you need to do that as soon as possible. Do an analysis of what’s good about your culture, but also be willing to look at what’s not so great about it. If you can be honest about your weak points, you can work toward strengthening them. And once you start making improvements, you’ll be working toward developing a healthier organization culture.