With many small businesses still reeling from the pandemic, much of the talk has been about the damage to profits and productivity. As we ease into new working patterns, it looks like company culture also took a bit of a battering. Now is a good time for leaders to give their culture some TLC – and rebuild it for the hybrid age.
What is company culture?
Imagine your business as a car. Your strategy is your steering wheel: setting your direction. Your skills are your engine: converting energy into motion. The fuel? That’s culture. Culture is the gas in your tank; your employees’ motivation, your collective ‘get-up-and-go’.
Based on a set of shared values, culture is emotional, intangible and often sub-conscious, but one of the most valuable levers you have. It determines how people interact with each other, with you, and with customers. It’ll serve your recruitment and retention as well as enhance your reputation.
Can you change your culture?
If you do nothing about your business culture, you’ll get one anyway – but perhaps not one you like; not a cohesive or constructive one. Culture by default may grow into silos, driven by a few strong personalities or dominated by processes. If you want your workforce to have a strong sense of self that serves your business and your people, you need to design your culture, rather than just let it do its own thing.
Cultivating a culture is even more important for smaller businesses because one pocket of negativity has a disproportionate effect. The good news is that positive effort will pervade more quickly because you don’t have layers of management and big departments to cascade it through.
Does strong culture mean strong business?
As far back as 2006, management guru Peter Drucker said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Since then, numerous studies have shown the link between culture and organisational performance; a strong culture can push up performance and a weak or negative culture can drag it down.
According to research by culture consultancy Thruue, the vast majority of leaders (92%) believe improving corporate culture improves the value of the company. A paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that over half of bosses would walk away from a potential merger where cultures are misaligned. The importance of culture is clearly no longer up for debate.
How to cultivate your culture
So if your culture is so fundamental to key drivers of business success, how can you measure yours, how do you shape it in a different direction – and where do you start? We outline the starting points below, as well as some cool ‘culture touches’ you can consider for uniting people under hybrid working conditions:
- Articulate your values. You may already have informally established a set of values around a mission statement, but it might be time to revisit, refresh and re-communicate them. Leaders can help ‘deep-set’ them into your company culture by demonstrating values – providing a living example of the team dynamic you want to foster.
- Recruit for values. There’s no easier way to bring all your people onto the same page – especially during a growth phase – than hiring people who share your values from day one. Explore values-based recruitment (VBR) like Netflix or Airbnb who hire against their core values from entry-level to C-suite positions.
- Bring in new ways of listening. Hybrid working calls on a different set of tools and techniques for listening to what your employees think and feel. Walking around the office, you have more opportunities to pick up on sentiment; with distributed teams, you have to create them. Consider a regular, anonymous pulse survey to gather honest feedback.
- Add a few culture-boosters. As well as these big-picture steps, there are a number of tactical touches you can use to express your culture on-site and off-site. Here are a few suggestions – ask your employees for their ideas too.
- Music: If it’s a bit quiet in your post-pandemic office, studies show that music can create more of a social buzz. The best off-site workspaces use sound to create a productive and relaxed vibe. Have some fun creating your own playlists.
- Layout: Just as the role of the office is changing, the look and feel of work environments are also undergoing a fundamental rethink – and it’s not cubicles and quietness anymore. What kind of space suits your culture? Take inspiration from work hub experience design best practice.
- Art: Futurologists and thought leaders are widely touting creativity and innovation as key drivers of business growth for the hybrid age. Create dynamic spaces for ideation and collaboration in your offices or remote workspaces.
Building a strong and vibrant culture in a hybrid workplace is 100% possible but it calls for a little planning and creative thinking. The most successful strategies incorporate new tools and techniques around more familiar in-person events and touchpoints.