Corporate Culture

Company Culture — A Special Kind of Glue

Colin McLain
Colin McLain
Vice President

Company culture. It’s a word, or rather, a phrase, that’s often discussed in business but unfortunately, for some (or many), it’s difficult to define. Depending on who you ask, company culture has various meanings and definitions. So, what is it exactly and why does everyone believe it’s so important?

Howard Stevenson (former Dean/Professor at the Harvard Business School) stated that “maintaining an effective culture is so important that it, in fact, trumps even strategy.” 

Through my own career, I’ve seen company cultures at their worst and at their best. Let me tell you, when you’ve experienced it at its worst…you never take for granted when it’s at its best!

A company’s culture guides the behaviors of its people, it’s employees. It’s what steers an employee after new hire training is over. It defines how we respond and react to the daily grind we all experience in our own respective roles. It’s the deciding factor on whether we risk telling our leadership about new ideas or whether we hide or share the problems we see unfolding.

It has been said that employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is the guide that tells them what to do when their leaders aren’t in the room, which is most of the time. Your workplace shouldn’t be a destination you dread. It should be a place that makes you feel happy, hopeful, and safe. We should be excited about coming to work, for the mere purpose of doing good things for other people…simply because we know they will do good things for us. Now, I’m not suggesting work shouldn’t be (or won’t be) stressful — it will. But company culture shouldn’t add to that stress; it should help relieve some of that stress.

It’s been my belief and experience that company culture is the very soul of an organization. Each culture I’ve experienced has had its own unique qualities and characteristics. When company culture is right, you don’t just see it in pockets, you see it everywhere. I remember the first time I walked into the new Holmes Murphy offices nearly eight years ago, it just felt different and everyone knew they were a part of something unique, something special, something bigger than themselves.

There isn’t a cut-and-dry formula on how to get your company culture right, but there are common elements I’ve witnessed when it’s at its best. Here are just a few of those I’ve witnessed:

  • Recruit and hire to fit your culture, not a role. You could have the very brightest, most talented, experienced candidate there is, but if they don’t fit your culture, you’ll know it soon enough and by that time they may have done more harm than good. It’s the old — one bad apple spoils the bunch. It’s better to tax your current employees and wait until the culture fit is right vs. hiring to fill a need and getting the culture fit wrong. Everyone will suffer with the latter.
  • The best ideas often come from the most unlikely places. None of us have all the answers. It’s important to listen to everyone, but before you can do that, everyone needs to know (and trust) they are being listened to. When open dialogue isn’t encouraged and praised, even when it’s not popular, trust erodes and silence can become deadly.
  • It takes a village (no…it takes a team). Nothing is more fulfilling than doing something good for someone else. Teams work together, and everyone pitches in and helps where necessary. It doesn’t matter who gets credit for it because the team accomplishes it together. Teams function much more effectively than individuals. They collaborate unselfishly, they encourage one another, and they communicate with empathy. We all have bad days. It’s nice to know you have a team that will pick you up when you’re down. You know this because you’d do the same for them.

Culture, at its best, will define your beliefs — your principles. Employees will live by it. It won’t matter what you say…your culture defines what you do and everyone will see what you do…you cannot hide it (good or bad). So, perhaps company culture is the glue that keeps it all together. And, if your company is looking for a boost to production, retention, repeat customers, better morale, lower turnover, or just better performance in general…you may want pay attention to the glue you’re using.

Explore more from Holmes Murphy