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  • Writer's pictureShez

Is your culture killing your business?

How to create a culture that helps you, your team and customers grow and thrive



So, I have this coaching client, and in a moment of distress, she sent me a copy of a couple of emails her boss sent her last week, to get some advice. Now, let me tell you, these emails were nasty!


Her boss was having a go at her for something, and not in a constructive or helpful way, but in an awful 'mean girls' way that destroys the soul and results in years of therapy to overcome the resulting imposter syndrome. The worst part (was it?) was that the thing she was having a go at my client about, the thing she was adamantly 'educating' her on --- she was wrong about! My client had accurately picked up a legal issue and her boss basically just didn't understand it.


While, of course, my immediate response was to feel for this person and offer my support, my second response was to question everything I know about that brand and workplace. I'd thought it was a good brand, I'd used it, I think I'd even recommended it. But now that I see how bad that culture is, how terribly their people are treated, I never will again!


Over the years, just like others in the Write Way Up network, I’ve worked with a lot of different businesses, in a lot of different industries.


I’ve spent some time in marketing and design of course, PM, tech, and property, among others. And while all these fields were different, and the workplaces unique, surprisingly, it was never the job or the money that kept me in any of them, or encouraged me to move on, it was the brand. Or more specifically, the people behind the brand.


My specialty is in brand – creating them and helping to build them. And though I’m trained to think about things like: how consistently a visual brand is applied across a business, how compelling a brand story is, how well socials drive a persona, I continue to very much believe that the culture of a business has one of the most massive impacts on any brand.


Culture – how the people in a business behave, what values drive them, how they treat each other and how they work with customers, suppliers, associates – can reinforce a brand, or it can crack its very foundation and cause it to crumble. Trust me, I’ve seen it first-hand!


Now, at this point, some of you will be tempted to stop reading this article – we’re about 30% in and often that’s where people will give up if they feel it’s not relevant.


But the fact is, if you are a business owner, or an employee or even a customer, this one is relevant to you. If a brand you own, work for, or love to buy from can’t walk the talk and live up to the positive culture it tries to present, there’s a good chance it either won’t be around for long, or if it is, there will be a lot of unhappy people within its walls.


When building a culture as a brand owner, or when trying to influence a culture as an employee, there are so many factors to consider. Along with some of the WWU network, I’ve broken down three of those factors in this article, so you can keep them in mind when you get to work on yours.


One last thing to note before we dive in, is more often than not, large organisations consciously focus on their values, their culture and how they build it and maintain it, while small and medium businesses – likely due to a lack of time – more often let all of that happen organically.


Culture is like a relationship, it takes work, and it takes focus, even in small businesses, sometimes especially in small businesses.


So, if you aren’t consciously thinking about your culture and working to ensure it is positive and productive, maybe now’s the time to start.


1.It has to be authentic

If there is a word most of us are sick of hearing, it’s 'authentic', and yet, it’s the right one to use here!


As a group, we unanimously agreed the absolute foundation of creating culture is that it has to come from a genuine place.

 

You can get every amazing cultural consultant in the world to come in and help you define an award-winning culture, but if what they write on paper, and what you put in recruitment ads and on your website isn’t actually representative of the people who work in the company, or the people who will, it just won’t hold up.


This point really is as simple as that. As a brand, don’t BS, don’t make it up, don’t create a story that can never ever be reality, because honestly, you are just sentencing your brand to become the butt of jokes, a target for rapid and regular staff turnover, and one of the worst rated employers on Glass door. 

 

2. It starts at the top…

Culture comes both from the bottom and the top of a business. Starting at the top, driving the culture you want for your company, begins with the business’s leaders.


If your company culture is all about kindness and support and teamwork, and the culture is supposed to be easy-going yet hard working, leaders need to live that every day.

 

In contrast if leaders lack empathy and don’t genuinely care for their employees or customers, the type of people they employ will likely follow suit, and the culture will become toxic.

 

Similarly, if the culture you want is ambitious, fast-paced and competitive, and leaders are too extreme – vicious – or too lenient on poor performance, the promised culture and reality won’t add up.

 

Leaders have to walk the walk.

 

In one business I worked for, the culture story told was all about a brand that genuinely cares, that is a family and built on support and teamwork. In reality, leaders were often cruel, humiliated their employees and ruthlessly competed against each other.

 

Needless-to-say, customers felt the difference between the promise and the reality very quickly, and that business underwent some BIG changes in order to survive!

 

3. Culture also lives at the bottom

When developing company values, it’s always useful to consult widely within the business, as opposed to just deciding them at the leadership level.

 

Why?

 

Because usually the bulk of the business is not the leaders, but the people underneath them, so their values are the ones that will most often be on display.


As a leader, you can talk about brand values like authenticity, approachability, honesty, balance and well-being, but if middle-managers are forcing long hours, and customer-facing staff are impatient and rude, the culture promise again doesn’t ring true.

 

A big part of getting the culture right from the bottom up -- after making sure your existing employees genuinely align with it -- is actually in recruitment.

 

When recruiting, in addition to a skills fit, you should also hire on a culture fit. Present scenarios for response in interviews that will unearth the values of the candidates, and prioritise those that match (or at the very least don’t oppose) the values of the brand.

 

It might sound silly, but going back to the earlier example of our kind and supportive culture, hiring a brutal salesperson who really doesn’t care about others can disrupt the entire balance of the brand, the employee experience and, as a result, the customer experience.

 

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When we write at WWU, we try to write always from our own personal and professional experience. While, from a skillset perspective, the more obvious parts of brand are usually my focus, my own experiences in companies with terrible cultures compel me to encourage every business leader I work with to invest in and genuinely commit to a positive and consistent culture.


I think it's disappointing how many people you come across who have a war story about working in an awful environment, but with a little focus and commitment, we can put an end to those stories.

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