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How to shape your company’s culture

A company’s culture is difficult to define. Only once you’ve experienced it can you get a feel for what it is and attempt to describe it. There are some companies that are known for having a fantastic company culture – Google and Microsoft regularly top these lists when the results of surveys are totted up – but you don’t have to be a corporate giant to make the grade. In addition to these household names, Consultancy UK’s 2019 list of The 50 best companies to work for in the UK included smaller UK names such as housing association Bromford, professional services company Turner & Townsend and footwear retailer Schuh.

If your business is in its infancy your company culture is probably still evolving, but it is something you should start to focus on now. Having a great company culture is increasingly linked to a business’s success, so developing a fantastic company culture is crucial. Here, we attempt to put the finger on what makes a great company culture, how to determine your company’s culture, and why it’s important to a company's success.

What is company culture?

This is a question that many struggle to answer as it often refers to a vibe or a feeling, but company culture can refer to an attitude and set of behaviours that is modelled by the leadership team. However, as a company’s culture concerns the company values that permeate the whole organisation, those working within that organisation - the employees - are best placed to define it. 

If the majority of a company’s employees are starting work at 7.30am and still at their desks twelve hours later, having eaten their lunch in front of their screens, the employees are likely to describe the company culture as highly pressurised and target driven. Employees may be well paid, but perhaps this reward comes at the cost of working in a highly stressful environment where there is a constant underlying fear of job losses if anyone is found to be underperforming.

The companies that are routinely credited with having a fantastic company culture tend not to work in such a rigid manner. Their employees don’t feel like they are being clock-watched or that there is an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality between employees and the leadership team. They are given a degree of personal flexibility and, most importantly of all, they enjoy being at work. So, this leads us on to ask the question: what makes a great company culture?

What makes a great company culture?

To create a great company culture, you and your co-founders or leadership team need to include these five key elements:

A values and mission statement that everyone buys into

Develop a powerful values and mission statement that will resonate with your employees and your partners and customers. In Microsoft’s mission statement, for example, the company commits to 'empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more.'

Not only should you have this great mission statement, you must also illustrate how you are going about meeting it – showcase examples on your website, company literature and advertising and provide evidence at company and customer meetings.

An approachable leadership style

Your staff and even your partners and clients may be quicker to spot gaps in your market offering than you and your senior leadership team are. This may be because they are working much more closely with your product or service than you are, and with your customers too. 

Let everyone know that you want to hear their ideas and let them ask questions and learn from you too. If the people that work for you and with you feel that they can play an instrumental role in the growth and development of your company, they will quickly feel a part of it and will be more likely to want to stay a part of it.

Action this by encouraging your employees to drop by your office or get in contact with you by phone or email whenever they feel the need. Make sure that you meet with key employees for a coffee or lunch at least once a quarter and that every new starter gets a welcome phone call or introduction with you.

An enjoyable working environment

Make your company an enjoyable place to work and you will reduce staff churn, entice people to approach you about employment opportunities and increasingly be spoken about favourably.

Everyone likes to be schmoozed with freebies. Google lays on breakfast, lunch and snacks every day and it offers onsite fitness centres and massage therapy. What makes Google one of the most enjoyable places to work, however, is the effort it puts into making its employees’ lives easier. You can ‘flex’ your workday to help you meet your personal and working needs and there is a life-long learning programme in everything from cooking to coding to continue your personal and professional development.

Focus on making your employees’ lives easier so that they can create a good work/life balance and you should find that they increasingly enjoy working for you and being at work. Happy staff breeds a happy company that partners, customers and even potential investors want to work with and support. When you are employing, look to hire people who understand and want to champion your company’s values and corporate culture too.

A commitment to corporate social responsibility

Companies with a great corporate culture not only care about being a great place for their employees to work and their customers to do business, they also care about the wider society in which they operate. Invest in your local community, support local charities, and encourage your staff to volunteer for local initiatives. It all helps to nurture a positive culture of support. Being committed to corporate social responsibility, will also make people want to work for you and do business with you. Increasingly investors only want to invest in companies with strong corporate social responsibility credentials too. And, once again, you can’t just say that you are a socially responsible organisation, you must show that you are one.

Evidence of employee investment

Show that you are committed to inclusion and diversity and invest in your employees’ career development. Your staff will appreciate you more and will be more likely to stay committed to working for you long-term. Where possible, seek to promote from within. Let employees see that they have a chance to grow and develop with your business and they will probably work harder to achieve the goals and targets that you set them.  Also, consider rewarding staff with employee incentive plans so that they have a stake in the business and want to help you in making it a great company to work for, with a great corporate culture.

Harper James Solicitors can help you to devise an employee incentive scheme, designed to attract and retain great talent and motivate employees with share options, benefiting from HMRC tax advantages.

How to determine your company’s culture

There are lots of great companies with very different but still fantastic company cultures that meet all the five principles above. So, when it comes to how to determine your company’s culture, there is no proven formula for creating an amazing one, but you should use these five pillars as a guide. And you needn’t invest a fortune in it.

You’re probably not at the stage where you can afford to fund a free lunch every day or offer free gym membership, but you can take your team out for dinner once a quarter (or in these Covid times, have a meal delivered to their homes and organise a virtual get together.) You can see if you can organise a group deal for reduced gym membership or health insurance. You can fund training courses that will help your staff in the course of their work, allow staff to work flexibly and reward staff that perform well with promotions, pay rises and share options.

You can work on a values and mission statement that embodies what your company does and how that fits into the community surrounding it. You can make sure that you and the senior leadership team have an open-door policy with all your staff. And you can focus on corporate social responsibility, perhaps by moving over to a sustainable energy source, improving your recycling programme or fundraising for a local charity.

Once all of these programmes are in place, your company should become an enjoyable place to work and you will have developed your corporate culture.

How to change your company culture for the better

If you are concerned that your company’s culture is not great, don’t despair. You can work on improving it by going through the five pillars and introducing policies that incorporate them. Most importantly, you need to come clean with your staff and admit that you know that things must improve and that you’re working on drastically improving your company culture. Ask your employees to help you in this quest. Begin by becoming more approachable and asking them what they think needs to be fixed. If you don’t feel that they are being open with you, ask them to fill out questionnaires anonymously. Once you’ve begun fixing the issues and implementing the five pillars you should gradually see an improvement in your company’s culture and happier employees, partners, and customers. 

Why corporate culture is important to a company's success

If you’ve read this far, you can probably already see why a great corporate culture is linked to a company’s success. Happy staff that feel involved in, invested in and a part of your company are more likely to lead to increased performance and satisfied partners and clients and ultimately a boost in profits. And, if your long-term goal is to sell and exit the business or seek further venture capital,  future buyers and investors will not only be looking at your profit margins, increasingly they look at the bigger picture of your corporate culture and your corporate social responsibility.

From employee incentive schemes to flexible working contracts, Harper James Solicitors can help you to put the legal framework in place to develop a great corporate culture. Discover more about our broad range of business legal services to see how we can support your business’ growth.

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