Why Culture Matters

by Aubrie Field

In recent years, I’ve come to realize the surprising impact a company’s culture has on its employees – whether positive or negative.

I first noticed this three years ago, doing administrative work for a small private equity firm in Manhattan - a company where fostering strong company culture was highly and intentionally emphasized. It was a game changer right from the start. During the hiring process, I was interviewed by an employee from nearly every level and department (not just my would-be supervisor). This time, effort, and importance placed on my overall fit within the company culture impressed upon me not only the high regard for employee input and value, but a collaborative, egalitarian, team mentality.

Organizational culture is the prism of shared and defined values through which employees problem solve and produce the best results.

After accepting the job, I continued to be impressed by the accountability each person felt to cultivate and spread the company culture. It wasn’t simply a bulletin of theoretical ideals, it was a living value set that was consistently encouraged and recognized. During employee reviews and staff meetings, we were given accolades for demonstrating various components of our office culture.

Organizational culture is the prism of shared and defined values through which employees problem solve and produce the best results. Essentially, it’s the company’s collective personality. Being a part of a strong culture made me proud to work there and excited for each day. It forever changed how I perceived an organization’s success.

On the flip side, I have seen when a dysfunctional culture can quickly destroy company morale and productivity levels, as well as accelerate employee turnover. In my mid-20s, I worked operations for a startup childcare agency where the culture was frenetic and cold. It soon became clear that the priorities were to make money and keep up appearances, regardless of maintaining company integrity or client promises. We were implored to work while sick, and felt a shady glare anytime we left our desks, even to use the restroom or pick up lunch. We worked in fear of disappointment and were rarely shown appreciation for a job well done. Needless to say, it was an uninspiring, unpleasant environment at best, and we were often hiring new staff as others moved on. Beyond the dismal vibe, we had no measurable goals to work toward nor were we privy to any overarching strategic plans.

Your organizational culture doesn’t have to be this way, and you surely don’t have to be an executive to change it.

With culture proving such an integral aspect of success, how do we ensure that an organization has established an appropriate and positive one? Our Unlocking Potential curriculum incorporates the following helpful tips:

  • Culture can be managed systematically; it begins by establishing where you want to be and then being clear-eyed about where you are today to identify what needs to change. You cannot just let culture happen.

  • You must recognize and reward the behaviors you want to see and establish real consequences for the behavior you want to discourage. One of the most powerful signals you have is who you reward, promote, and surround yourself with. People are watching that.

Keeping these key concepts in mind, here are some questions to get you thinking about your own company culture:

  • What core values define our culture? Have they been appropriately established? Do they accurately reflect our company’s identity, employee behaviors and motivation?

  • What behaviors do we reward? Are those rewards consistent? Are they recognized privately or do we make positive examples in front of other staff?

  • Are our values well displayed around the office? Are they reiterated during team and staff meetings?

  • Do we “walk the walk?” Does senior management strive to embody our culture characteristics and perpetuate them?

Ultimately, we hope to illustrate that honing your organization’s culture is about more than elevating mood and feelings; it creates cohesion and deeper investment into your work and organization, resulting in greater focus and efficiency. Culture isn’t born spontaneously or arbitrarily, it’s created from the inside out. What you practice will affect those around you, setting a standard and momentum, and becoming culture. You can be that catalyst; you can lead.

Taylor Enders