The fastest-growing businesses of recent years are almost as well known for their corporate culture as their products. How does organizational culture influence success?

As consumers become more informed and correspondingly particular about how their goods and services are produced, what a business does might not be as important as how they do it. On the other side, job seekers are looking for more than money from their job lately, with prospective employers being evaluated according to the working experience they provide, and the value they place on individual workers.

Businesses that take their employees’ welfare for granted can no longer expect to do so privately, as social media, including specialised job-rating sites like Glassdoor, makes it easy for disgruntled workers to air grievances. Conversely, several top brands, such as Netflix and Slack, have attracted attention for their positive, inclusive cultures. The way a business gets work done defines its brand as much as the services or products it offers.

Better Culture, Better Talent

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The importance of culture becomes obvious as talent is increasingly regarded as a resource in the business world, much like liquid assets, raw materials or intellectual property. Attracting and retaining top talent takes more than just a competitive pay packet; employees won’t be productive if they’re unhappy or stressed, no matter how much they make.

Furthermore, an organization’s culture is strongly related to employee engagement, which determines how likely those hard-gained industry stars are to stick around. Culture, too, has become a valuable commodity.

It might seem counterintuitive given its intangible and personal nature, but organizational culture is something that can be improved upon, and even transformed. Google predictably takes a data-based approach to making sure they get the most out of their staff — and while they’re cagy about the fine details, they shared they have “revealed the optimal organizational size and shape of various departments,” and discovered how to “better manage maternity leave, resulting in a fifty percent reduction in defections,” as well as “created an on-boarding agenda for an employee’s first four days of work that boosted productivity by up to 15 percent.” In addition to this, it’s clear that by refusing to be complacent, Google’s leadership inspires their employees to find ways of outperforming themselves, as Jake Knapp’s Sprint method, which he initially developed during his days at Google, demonstrates.

Google is also well known for spoiling their precious employees with lavish perks. However, these aren’t merely cosmetic: it’s more important to address employee’s deeper concerns, rather than trying to fob them off with lazy efforts or those that don’t align with the company’s ethos:  according to a widely quoted paper by the Ken Blanchard Companies, “70 per cent of all change initiatives fail” due in large part to disorganization or failure to do the research.

Corporate culture consultants Roundpegg suggest aiming to align an organization’s culture with its goals and values through focusing on small changes, beginning with surveying existing employee attitudes and perceptions, and ensuring new hires fit with their theme.

Chick-Fil-A show how important having employees who are on-board with a company’s mission can be. Despite courting controversy with their support of “family values”, they are well rated as an employer — with workers praising their  “Great foundation in Christian values” as well as “flexible scheduling, great customer base, and low turnover.”

Culture Done Right (And Wrong)

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No matter what an organization’s values and goals are, one thing will always contribute to a productive work environment: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Netflix has been lauded for their humane policy where workers are trusted to determine how many days off they need, as well as their expenses — asking only that they “Act in Netflix’s best interests.” Netflix treats their employees as though they’re intelligent adults worthy of trust, and the effect this has on financial performance can be seen in the company’s meteoric rise.

Good culture can boost a business’s performance past even the most ambitious expectations — but negative culture weakens the foundations of even the strongest company.

Enron’s selectively blind culture, which rewarded profit over all with no space for self-criticism or introspection, resulted in a spectacular collapse that is still being studied today. And while Amazon is holding strong at the top of their market, last year’s New York Times exposé revealed a merciless culture where office employees are worked past the point of exhaustion.

While Amazon swiftly attempted to rebut these allegations, there are several reports that conditions in their warehouses are, if anything, worse. It’s hard to imagine Amazon collapsing, but then, before 2001, it would have been equally hard to imagine the end of Enron. There is ample evidence to show that disregarding the building blocks of an organization — the people — isn’t a viable long term strategy.

Building Something Meaningful

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Looking at the figures, it’s clear that Investing in an organization’s culture makes good business sense. But on a personal level, curating an environment where people feel comfortable, happy, and passionate about their work is a laudable goal for every workplace.

Good culture means better work, but making sure that people have the best working day that they can is also a moral win. Toxic culture can make coworkers assume the worst of each other, particularly between departments and in different tiers of management. And you didn’t need to read this post to know that people in mutually antagonistic relationships will never achieve what they could in an atmosphere of trust and goodwill.

For a business to be truly successful, they must rely on the efforts of people who go above and beyond. In all areas of life, people are far more likely to go out of their way for those who do the same for them — the workplace is no different.

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