When you hear the word "culture," different things likely come to mind. You might think about art, food, or even the cultures of specific nations through the world.
When it comes to the running of a company, the Harvard Business Review defines culture as "the set of processes in an organization that affects the total motivation of its people."
HBR researchers have found culture to be so critical for companies that they have defined it as the "operating system of an organization."
The idea of "culture" can seem abstract and difficult to define, thereby making its impact hard to measure. But research strongly demonstrates a direct link between healthy company culture and brand success, as well as between negative company culture and poor overall performance. Businesses therefore have a vested interest in creating the best cultures possible.
1. Company Culture Affects the Quality of Employee Work
Culture provides a context that shapes the motivations employees have for doing their work. Depending on the culture, these motivations could either benefit or harm employees and, in the end, their companies.
Positive reasons people have for working are that they enjoy their work, believe their work is valuable, or think their work will advance their careers. Employees who work for these reasons will do their jobs better, and their companies will reap the benefits.
However, people are often motivated to work for less pleasant reasons. There could be an outside threat, such as being fired not being able to pay rent. Sometimes, employees merely go through the motions at their jobs purely out of habit, without having any reason why they are still working.
When people are apathetic or only motivated to work because of outside pressures, both their work and their companies suffer. Businesses need to help employees enjoy their work and recognize its purpose. Research across a variety of industries demonstrates that the companies that do so are far more successful than those that do not.
2. The State of Modern Work
To some, the idea that a business's culture should support employees might sound obvious. But unhealthy cultures are a widespread problem. For example, Jeffrey Pfeffer of Fortune reports a tendency to focus on the "resources" over the "human" aspect of HR. Instead of recognizing that people need to be nurtured, companies are treating their employees as "assets to be acquired and discarded according to the return for doing so."
Many modern startups present trendy workplace environments and focus on bringing in employees who are young and hip. This perspective not only alienates the older and more experienced but it also does not provide for the basic human needs to be in community and to feel secure.
Companies that do not create environments that meet those needs will foster unhappy employees. And as HBR's research shows, disgruntled, cheerless, or anxious workers will perform at lower rates than happy ones, hurting the company's profits.
3. What You Can Do About It
Leaders naturally play a major role in shaping the cultures of their companies. If leaders are able to promote a compelling vision that employees can internalize, it will be that much easier to avoid and correct problems that might arise in the future.
Vision is at least as powerful as the explicit rules at a company. Julien Emory of Allay defines company culture as "a set of unspoken rules around what behaviors are, and are not, acceptable within a given group (or tribe) of people." An organization's cultural vision is significantly shaped by the values and examples set by company leadership.
Creating a healthy work environment doesn't magically happen. It's easy to say that leaders need to paint a compelling vision, but it can be difficult for them to do so. Taking the HBR definition of culture as a company's processes, leadership in Human Resources can greatly help to create a positive culture by making sure the company's processes are efficient and purposeful.
HR can also help ensure that employees meet company leaders' expectations and that the company is meeting its employees' needs as well. Depending on the state of a company's culture, improving it might require overhauling company processes.
But in lieu of making drastic changes, Harvard Business Review suggests making sure employee roles are well-designed. Company leaders should also emphasize how their employees' work benefits others and take steps to help their workers grow in their professions.
For example, one Walmart executive made it a priority to begin meetings by focusing on how employees had served their customers. Instead of focusing on how much money the company had made, he emphasized how much money employees had helped customers save.
4. Employees Flourish in Healthy Work Environments
Successful companies communicate well. They have a clear purpose, promote teamwork, value diversity, and develop their employees.
No one thrives in a toxic work environment. Taking steps toward building a healthy company culture doesn't mean all your problems will go away. But it does mean you can move toward having happier personnel and increasing the profits of your business.