Company culture is a bit of a buzz-phrase isn’t it?  It’s something everyone seems to think they already have nailed – in fact I know of at least one company that has a’ great culture’ in every almost every department. And in every department they have different cultures!   Moving departments might be as traumatic as moving company, and you could still be working for the same Exec.

This scenario can limit the career development of your talent as your staff may not feel as at home, or thrive as well in one area as in another.  By extension that limits your ability to pull in talent as you need to from other areas too.

How does this happen?

What is curious about culture is that most companies don’t actively set about building it, it just sort of …emerges.  Like a small group of friend: you can use the social influence of  members of the group to keep everyone aligned about what is acceptable behaviour.  The more friends you bring into your group though, the harder that gets as a strategy.  To go from ‘as a group we don’t do that’  to ‘who the hell are you to tell me not to do that’ can happen fast.

Companies are exactly the same.  When they are small, culture is not front-of-mind, and you can truly have a fabulous culture without conscious effort.  As a company grows, its like adding more friends to your group in my analogy.  The faster you introduce more people into your company – perhaps in a hyper growth phase of a scaling-up business, the more vulnerable your culture becomes.  The kicker is that you probably won’t be aware of it, especially at first, because you never had to think about it consciously before.

When you get an influx of new people, no matter how good and talented they are, your culture ends up being a patchwork of the worst behaviour you will tolerate as a company.  And once the behaviours are accepted, this is very hard to change.

Most companies vulnerable to this sort of culture erosion are not usually so fore-sighted.  Its very difficult to learn from another’s mistakes, especially so when you aren’t aware of the danger to send you looking for advice.

Interesting, but need something a little more helpful?

So, for everyone who has read this far in this article, here are a couple of free tips:

  1. Find out what your culture currently is – candour is essential here. You may not be the best judge on your own. This sort of discovery is best done with some back up.
  2. Once you know what’s great and not great about your culture, you can celebrate the good stuff.  Communicate often and diversely about what good things are there as beacons of your great culture.  This gives people reference points for what you want.
  3. You also need to deal with the not-so-great stuff.  These are the behaviours, practices and company habits that don’t represent your company.  (Or at least, that you don’t WANT to represent you company).  This requires a conscious effort, lots of deliberate comms and solid, quality, management techniques to fix.  It’s a lot to cover so I’ll write about it in another article later.

If this was easy, Uber wouldn’t have had a problem, google wouldn’t have had staff walkout and facebook wouldn’t be facing a staff revolt right now.  The bigger you are, and the longer you have allowed poor behaviour to be acceptable, the harder this is to change in your company.

More Coming

There are a lot of aspects to addressing an eroding culture, so I plan to write several more articles in the next few weeks.  I’ll be covering ideas of how to set a new employee up with a solid expectation of behaviours within your culture from the outset.  I also want to offer some ideas for assessing how your culture is doing.  Are people living and breathing your preferred culture, or mutating it into something they can live with.

Finally, I want to cover some ideas for adjusting the trajectory of a culture that is heading in the wrong direction. 

Lastly: a bonus

I’ve developed a scorecard to let business owners get a quick, rough assessment of where their company is with this sort of thing.  Have a go and see how you do – it only takes about 5 minutes.