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3 Elements of Highly Successful Company Cultures

November 13, 2019

illustration of successful company culture

This blog post was written by guest contributor Jennifer McClure

Quick request: Think about the company you’ve either loved or hated working at the most in your career.

If you had to describe your experience there in one word, what would that word be?

It’s likely that the first word that came to mind for you is related to the company’s culture. Whether your word was something like caring, fun, challenging – or stressful, discouraging, difficult – your one-word assessment is a direct reflection of how you experienced the company’s culture.

Does this mean that your experience is the same as others who have worked for the organization? Not necessarily.

While one person may find an environment that is fast-paced and has few rules to be energizing, another person who enjoys working in an environment that’s more laid-back and structured may find that same environment to be extremely stressful.

Does that mean that something’s wrong with a company’s culture, because one person finds it to be a place where they’re very satisfied while another is unhappy? Nope.

Company culture can be viewed as “both the values of the group and the behaviors a company expects and exhibits day-to-day,” which means that your company’s culture is both what you establish in terms of values and what you allow to happen.
It’s really that simple.

So, with that in mind, what makes a company’s culture “successful?”

Established Values That Are Visibly in Action

The foundation of a successful company culture is a clear set of values, and the leaders are encouraged to, as well as rewarded for, “walking the walk” and enforcing those values with their teams.

A great example of this is Michael Hyatt & Company, whose website lays out the company’s purpose, the core values and why a prospective employee would want to consider joining the team.

I’m a long-term customer of this organization and am familiar with several employees who work there, and it’s clear from both the customer and employee experience that the company lives and breathes these values in how it approaches hiring decisions, how it treats employees, and how it treats customers.

Awareness and Authentic Communication

How well a company understands its culture and communicates it honesty and visibly is a key factor both in the leaders making good hiring decisions and in prospective employees determining if a workplace is one where they can thrive or one they should avoid like the plague.

For example, before starting my own business, I worked in three different HR leadership roles within start-up, high-growth, and turnaround environments. How would I describe those experiences? Fun. Challenging. Stressful. And I loved it. That’s why I consistently chose opportunities where the challenges were growth, change, and overcoming resistance.

However, in the same environments where I was at my best, others were miserable. Consistent change, dealing with unknowns, and constant pressure was overwhelming for some – not energizing.

So, when it came to hiring, it was critically important that we understood the work experience we were offering to current and future employees and communicated those challenges and opportunities in our employment branding efforts and during the interview process.

As Kris Dunn, CHRO of Kinetix and author of The 9 Faces of HR: A Disruptor’s Guide to Mastering Innovation and Driving Real Change said in one of his popular DisruptHR Talks, Who To Hire When Your Culture Sucks, “If you have a freak show, go ahead and tell the world you’re a freak show. You’ll actually get better matches, and people will think you’re authentic.”

Whether your company is a loveable “freak show” where only the strong survive, a Zen garden where the brightest minds blossom in tranquility, or somewhere in between, the most important thing is that you call it what it is. Because if you don’t, you’ll be called out by others who found out too late, which will prevent you from being able to attract and retain great talent that matches your culture.

Consistent Evaluation and Evolution

While it’s important for companies to have founding principles that establish and drive culture initially, the reality is that, in a constantly changing world, company cultures must evolve and change as well.

To evaluate your company’s culture, I’d suggest at least a semi-annual review of employee satisfaction surveys as well as customer feedback. If feedback and results are positive, then no change may be necessary. But even when feedback is positive in regards to the current state, maybe there are challenges ahead within your industry or the environment (workforce trends, economic shifts, societal norms, etc.) that will require removing, changing, or adding new values to create and sustain an environment that supports the company’s goals.

Companies that aren’t consistently doing a “culture check” may find themselves in a situation similar to the one Uber faced in recent years. Of course, Uber is known for completely disrupting an industry and consistently having to overcome extreme resistance in order to change the way we think about transportation. When the company was founded, its original values included Meritocracy and Toe-stepping, Superpumped, and Always Be Hustlin’. However, as the business matured and the internal and external work environments evolved, this type of culture no longer served them well, and led the company to near catastrophic failure. After several negative events involving both employees and customers, the company made significant changes in both its leadership and values in order to survive.

Culture Is Not One Size Fits All

The definition and importance of company culture doesn’t have to continue being debated. We all know it’s important, and every company is different. The path to success is not in trying to make our culture like another company’s, but in determining the values that we want to infuse into our workplace, communicating and re-enforcing those values, and being willing to change them as needed to meet the needs of our employees and customers.

To learn more about the importance of a healthy organizational culture, check out King University’s guide to company culture. King University offers an online MBA program with a human resource management concentration that can help you learn the skills you need to lead your organization in developing a highly successful company culture.

Jennifer is a full-time speaker, business advisor, and host of the Impact Makers Podcast. You can follower her on her blog here.