Company Culture: How It Can Make or Break Your Business

your company cultureCompany culture plays a huge role in your business, even if you haven’t thought about it or deliberately developed one.

In the past 19 years, I’ve worked with more companies than I could possibly count. Every one of those businesses has a unique culture — and what works or doesn’t work is different for each one.

Do you want the best workers on your staff? Then you need to think about your company culture!

The workforce is constantly evolving, aging, and changing, and if your culture doesn’t adapt to workers’ new needs and preferences, you’ll get left in the dust!

Ask these questions about your company culture:

When I meet someone who is just starting a business, culture is usually something they’re thinking about a lot. But even established businesses need to periodically reassess the culture they have and the culture they want.

  • What will the company’s values be?
  • What will the work environment be like?
  • What employee behaviors will be valued?
  • How will employee performance be reviewed and rewarded?
  • What will the organizational structure look like?

These are just some of the components that create a company’s culture. And employees are every bit as invested in a company’s culture as its owners.

Learn from good, bad & ugly examples of company culture:

We can learn a lot about the company culture we want to create for ourselves by looking at examples of culture at other businesses.

In August 2015, The New York Times wrote an expose on what it’s like to work at Amazon. It’s an excellent read, but here are some of the more eyebrow-raising highlights:

  • Employees stab each other in the back.
  • They cry at their desks.
  • Their bosses and peers criticize them non-stop.
  • Co-workers are encouraged to tear each other’s ideas apart.
  • Personal lives — including illnesses, family emergencies, and vacations — are expected to never interfere with an employee’s productivity.
  • Stress is extreme, burnout is common, turnover is high, and many of the workers have low morale.

Sound like a place you’d want to work? Maybe not, but Amazon employs over 150,000 people!

  • How does this company’s culture enable them to succeed?
  • How does this culture coincide with the expectations of today’s workers?

Amazon’s incredible success has been built on a bruising and grueling work environment, driven by CEO Jeff Bezos. It’s interesting that this culture, which may seem quite negative on its face, has supported huge success for the company. 

Employees’ needs & preferences change:

As the economy evolves and the workforce ages and changes, what employees want and need from their careers also changes.

Every year, the Society for Human Resource Management conducts a survey of Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement in the United States. The results are helpful for employers to identify trends and develop a company culture that attracts and retains the best talent available.

In the 2016 survey:

  • The top factor in employee job satisfaction was “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels” — with 67% of responders ranking this as “very important.”
  • “Trust between employees and senior management” had a 55% ranking.
  • Employees valued culture as much as more concrete aspects of their jobs, like overall employee benefits, compensation/pay, and job security

This is interesting to contrast to Amazon’s work environment where co-workers are encouraged to criticize peers and does not foster an environment that would exude trust and respect.

In our staffing company, when we match workers and employers, the cultural “fit” is as important as the fit for skills and experience.

Company culture must change to be successful:

When the New York Times article came out, Bezos sent a memo to his employees instructing them to go to their HR department if they had issues like those reported in the story.

Hopefully, that’s good news for Amazon employees and the Human Resources staff who will now be empowered to make strategic changes to improve and shift a company’s culture.

What has worked for Amazon to this point may not be sustainable in this changing economy. For them to attract and retain the brightest talent in a tight tech job market — which surely is what they want and need to do — they will have to be known as one of the best places for the brightest people to work.

Zappos & Amazon: one owner, two cultures:

I have a passion for shoes, and I am a big fan of Zappos, a business renowned for their great company culture.

Interestingly enough, Amazon owns Zappos.

Part of the agreement made by Zappos’ CEO, Tony Hsieh, when he sold his company to Amazon was that they would continue to manage their business independently of Amazon. Hsieh fervently believed that Zappos’ commitment to their company culture, above everything else, including their profits, is what distinguished his company from his competitors.

Jeff Bezos agreed to that as part of the purchase.

What does that tell us?

Perhaps it means that Bezos is smarter about the importance of company culture than he may have been given credit for!

Listen to feedback, even if it’s unpleasant:

That New York Times article was actually a gift for Jeff Bezos and the senior management of Amazon. It gave them an opportunity to have a frank dialogue with their employees about their company’s culture and to ask hard questions about whether it was still the proper mix to meet Amazon’s future goals.

A lot of business owners and managers never get the opportunity to hear honest feedback from their employees. If we are lucky enough to be in the shoes of a man as smart as Bezos, we need to use the information we receive to our advantage!

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