Nicola O’Donnell: How to protect your company culture

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Cultivating and maintaining a quality company culture requires constant effort and conscientious decision-making. It starts with the example of leadership and extends all the way down to the type of training that new hires receive. Company culture is built upon every document your company produces, every client you decide to take on, and every new investment the business undertakes.

It is not only the job of management, but it is also the duty of every employee working at the organisation to thoughtfully safeguard company culture. Here’s how to ensure your hard-earned culture endures:

Define and clarify a common mission

This is vital. You cannot expect a solid culture to persist if common goals are not made clear to everybody. It is essential to clarify the ethos, behaviours and thinking processes that will make up the fabric of your organisational culture, and how those traits will help the business achieve the mission.

Common goals are the foundation of stable company cultures. It is the duty of leadership to clearly define a mission for the company to strive for; one that every member of the team can feel proud to dedicate their labour toward. Make that mission prominent in all you do, let it shape decisions, and never allow the actions of your workers to undermine it.

Lead by example

Once you have defined a common mission, it is important to actually live that ethos yourself. It is no good saying you want a culture of open and flat communication, for example, then making yourself unapproachable as a leader. If people see that senior employees are living the values of the organisation, they are much more likely to be inspired to do the same.

Setting the tone and culture in an organisation must begin at the top – starting with inspirational leaders, then with line managers and their teams, and subsequently filtering down into the rest of the business. Ultimately it comes down to creating something that you, as a leader, want to be a part of, living that culture, and ‘being’ it.

Hire the right people

When you strip back everything else, your people are your culture. They are the ones who live the company values every day, in everything they do and in every decision they make. It is therefore essential to make sure that you hire people who are going to not only fit with your culture, but also be prepared to exhibit the actions and behaviours that will keep that culture alive. When it comes to the interview process, talk about how you do business, about the clients you work with, and let the candidate interview the organisation as well.

What you don’t want to do is hire people who are likely to grate against the company culture. Employing somebody who is not the right fit can have a negative impact on those around them, creating a bad atmosphere within their team and ultimately affecting the wider culture of the business. Hiring the right talent or technical ability is important, but equally important is hiring somebody who is willing and able to fit within the culture of the organisation. If they don’t, it will be as unhappy a time for them as it will be for you.

Forego Hierarchy

Hierarchy separates companies into ‘we’ and ‘they.’ In doing so, it fractures teams and compromises collaboration. While every company inevitably needs leaders, those leaders should not be aloof or hierarchically separate from the rest of the team. Level the playing field by inventing creative job titles, building common work areas into your office, and encouraging face-to-face interaction as much as possible.

If you want people to be ‘on board’ and help you protect the culture of the organisation, you need to ensure that they are engaged and passionate about that culture. If they are working in an environment that makes them feel inferior, or undervalued, then they are less likely to support the business beyond simply doing their job.

Prioritise Learning

When employees go to work each day knowing they will learn new skills, hone old talents, and make themselves better, it is easy for them to be passionate about what they do. Offer your team members learning resources and opportunities that they can utilise for professional development as often as possible. Not only will you be investing in the capabilities of your company, but you will also be creating a highly motivated and loyal team.

It doesn’t always have to be about sending people out of the office on training courses, either. There are many ways you can encourage an organic learning environment throughout your organisation, where everybody is proactively sharing best practice with colleagues around the business.

Encourage collaboration

Every employee should feel as though he or she helps to shape company policy and contributes to the growth of the organisation, so make a point to include your team members in the decision-making process. Ensure there is open and frank communication at every level of the company, and never hide things from your staff. When every employee is included, company culture thrives.

Company culture is about community, something which can only thrive when every member participates. It is therefore essential to ensure that each member of your team is kept in the loop, encouraged to contribute to many different aspects of the business, and constantly encouraged to push his or her skills to new heights. To protect company culture, never waver in your commitment to the people who make that culture possible.

These are just some of the steps you can take in order to protect your company culture. But remember: every organisation is as individual as the people working within it. Don’t go out of your way to instil a particular culture because it worked for somebody else. There is no one-size-fits-all culture – let the natural environment of your organisation drive the culture to a certain extent, rather than trying to force your business to be something it is not.

All of this may take a great deal of time and careful effort, but the benefits of having a well-defined, and lasting, company culture are huge, from attracting and retaining the best talent in the industry to increasing productivity and engagement. Having worked hard to create the culture you want, it is certainly worth fighting to protect it.

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