How’s this for the ultimate corporate put-down: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. This was coined by management guru Peter Drucker long ago, but it’s been resonating a lot with me lately.
It seems to me that a company’s board can set ambitious targets, issue announcements about growth and profit projections, but ultimately, whether those numbers are reached will hang entirely on the collective spirit of its workforce. And what every business requires is a tight-knit group of people enthusiastically determined to deliver.
There’s an awful lot of energy currently being devoted to keeping millennials happy and committed. But when you think about it, those same objectives should be applied to ALL of us. Financial incentives alone are simply not enough. What people value is a shared sense of purpose, to be inspired and supported. We want our colleagues to feel like family (we certainly spend more time with them) and we expect to be encouraged to have fun at work.
So, the likelihood of people thriving or wilting in your business is going to depend on the culture cultivated by its leaders. Culture (obviously) starts from the top and permeates down. Employees ultimately become the shadow of their leader. So, whether that leader is a dynamic, engaging hero or an autocratic, humourless bully, their approach and behaviours will be replicated throughout the organisation.
This goes right to the very personality of your business; something intangible that’s not always easy to identify from the inside. If you don’t know what your own corporate culture is, find out how your staff describe the company to their friends. Would they recommend it as an amazing place to work?
To some leaders, the idea of “group hugs” in the boardroom doesn’t chime with the relentless pressure of meeting deadlines and budgets. But if a colossus like Google can invest in providing fabulous food and mindfulness sessions for its people, maybe those of us who supply to Google should take note.
We can, at least, be grateful that corporate culture in the events industry ranks higher up the happiness scale than it does in sectors like financial services, which are suffering massive talent shortages. One big accountancy firm reportedly loses two thirds of its graduates in their first year.
We all have patches when we are maxed-out and under pressure, and it’s then that solidarity carries us through. The same can’t be said for those divisive, toxic cultures, where the undercurrent of resentment and proximity to burnout will make super-stressed people put their own needs first.
So, if you are looking to bring about a cultural transformation, accept that it won’t happen overnight. Some companies put up posters around the workplace conveying motivational messages (how naff), but corporate culture goes way beyond what you say; it’s about what you do.
When Paul Gray was palaces group director at HRP he spent one of his first few days in the job working with the gardeners at Hampton Court. Many years later they still remembered that he took the trouble to get to know them. If you are respectful of the people around you, you get so much more out of them.
Sarah Yeats, managing director of Sledge, is wholly committed to driving a positive culture within her business. She’s introduced monthly Sledge lunches (a chef comes to cook), a team ski trip and additional days off for birthdays and moving home. Staff even get to come in two hours late after Valentine’s night (designed, one assumes, for those who had lots of bed but not much sleep). She is clear that all these initiatives help foster a collaborative family ethos.
That said, it doesn’t have to be costly – small behavioural changes can have a hugely positive effect. Simply taking the time to say hello to everyone each morning will shift a mindset.
But, if you’re stuck for where to begin, here’s a clue: Start by being the culture you want to see.