Culture as the Defining Feature in a Company

“Maintaining an effective culture is so important that it, in fact, trumps even strategy.” – Howard Stevenson

Anyone running a business or employed in a company knows that there is something that defines the company. A certain feature that makes the company stand out despite the products and or services being similar to others and this feature either keeps people happy or leaves them desperate to leave. Culture as the defining feature dictates how each employee will behave and respond to things that happen within the company and when there is a unique or extraordinary request from a customer. Culture defines how even the top line will conduct themselves – being open to new ideas and tackling issues steadfastly. It will steer people to do the right thing within and outside the company even when there is no one in ‘command’ watching them. Every company needs culture as the defining feature and this feature will be unique and distinct for each enterprise. The commonality of culture anywhere must be that people are energized and empowered to do their work well, be highly productive and yet have fun while working. This positivity will naturally shine through when dealing with customers.

Fun culture as the defining feature will guarantee that people love coming to work and look forward to being the best they can be in their jobs. They would want to remain with the company for a long time and tackle each new challenge with a sense of fun and treat their peers and co-workers with respect and courtesy. A great culture will spread enthusiasm and a sense of fun thereby reducing stress to a negligible level. A happy culture as the defining feature will support fervour and gusto at all levels in the organization. We all know that in general too, happy people are positive and more likely to produce better results. Higher productivity for any company means better growth and profits making it more attractive to customers. Happy employees are also more inclined to provide sustained customer service excellence. Culture as the defining feature makes a company strong from within and much better equipped to withstand the onslaughts of voracious competition and fickle market conditions. Investing in culture through time, effort and leadership is worth every minute spent.

A company’s performance is driven by its employees and to attract great talent – both skills and attitude to fit – use your company’s culture to get the ‘right’ people. Everyone prefers to work in an environment that is free and promotes integrity and honesty. If you want to be the best, hire the best. If you want to hire the best then make sure that your culture is the defining feature. Employees must be able to ‘feel’ the difference right from at the interview stage – they must want to work with you. The culture must reflect that they would be respected, recognized and treated at par with everyone else irrespective of the level they are joining at. For example – there is a huge company and despite its sheer size, market clout and ability to attract whoever they wish, treat everyone the same way – from the President to the cleaning staff. In their all-employee meets when recognition tokens are handed out the cleaning staff is also recognized and given the same importance as anyone else. It is truly phenomenal – some of the employees have been there from day one of its inception. This culture of equality and appreciation is probably the reason they are what they are today. Undefeated and supreme!

When the focus is on making culture as the defining feature, you give yourself certain stringent and non-negotiable principles to be guided by. People will identify your company and employees by these principles since every employee will live them and conduct themselves in accordance. Customers learn to trust the steadfastness and will stand by your company even in tough times and will be more willing to buy from you than a company offering the same products and pricing but have a shady reputation. Everyone – customers, employees, vendors, other stakeholders – will all work in tandem using the qualities of the culture making it much easier to function together as one big team. Culture as the defining feature serves the purpose of an adhesive that keeps everyone together.

A great and sustainable culture gets recognized and when there is recognition everyone desires to be associated with it. This translates to low employee turnover thereby bringing down the cost of hiring and training and increasing the amount of satisfaction that each employee can deliver to the customers. Employee loyalty breeds customer loyalty leading to profitability and cost effective great quality products. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. Investing in making culture as the defining feature is way better than taking shortcuts to attract customers. This is a very short term and narrow focus eventually leading to the ‘demise’ of the company. Every time your company decides to recruit more employees, only those who truly match the culture of your company would be attracted making it easier for the people responsible for hiring.

So how can you make your culture as the defining feature of your company – attractive enough to have customers making a beeline for you in the knowledge that they will be treated well and their needs would be given prime importance?

– Having a rigorous and well-defined hiring process. Some companies have a pre-hiring process where potential candidates come in to work on the job for about 5-7 days. This not only helps companies to ascertain which candidates would be best suited but also allows candidates to know if they would fit in and would like to work in the company. Cultures must be compatible. The fact is that even if candidates are great workers and perform well, they may not have the right attitude and could be complete culture misfits. This would be detrimental in the long run. It would be prudent to hire people who are best culture fits and groom them with time and training to add to their performance and work skills. The employees must have the culture so engrained, that even when they are not within the office premises, they would be mindful of the company they represent. Rambunctious, rowdy, unpleasant and rude behaviour would tell on the company too – would you like to do business with a company that has employees who behave in an unruly fashion even if it is outside work? The assumption naturally is that the company is rude and obnoxious too since it supports such behaviour. If on the other hand, the employees are polite, well-behaved and helpful in an external situation, that is how the company will be viewed. It is human tendency and hence making culture as the defining feature will hold your company in good stead even outside of working hours.

The truth is one bad hire can affect the entire department and slowly the entire company in an adverse manner. If nothing is done to contain the contrary behaviour other employees will see it as an opportunity to defy and even emulate that behaviour and before long the entire company’s culture would have been damaged. Take corrective action immediately – if the person does not improve, separation would be the only alternative and will send a strong message to all that the company’s culture is sacrosanct and no deviation will be tolerated.

– Ensure that at the hiring stage the company’s values and culture is made known to the candidates. Asking open-ended questions leading to answers that would give an insight in to how much they know about your company and whether they would fit in to the culture of the company. The core values of the person should match the values and mission of the company if they can be expected to work towards accomplishing the goals of the customers, the company and their own.

– Culture as the defining feature will drive everyone involved to work together as a team. Individual differences will be kept aside and each person will be engaged to ensure that the company is working as one cohesive unit. An energized team will be enthusiastic and will do their best to make the company move forward. The company will be one team and not a host of individuals working to satisfy their own motives.

Research conducted around the world has revealed consistently that building a close knit and defining culture yields unique, distinctive and many substantial business advantages. Lower turnover, better profitability and world class customer service have been recorded for companies with culture as the defining feature. Such companies have greater customer and employee loyalty and are poised for success irrespective of extenuating tough conditions. Invest whole-heartedly to build a company culture that everyone in the company is proud of.

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