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What Most Founders Get Wrong About Company Culture

Culture has never been more important than it is today. The competition for top talent, or High Achievers, is fierce. There is great debate, however, of how to attract and keep the best people. For founders building a company, there are a million things to do and a steady flow of tasks that require their […]

Caption from Keynote Speech by Therese Gedda. 
© Therese Gedda
Caption from Keynote Speech by Therese Gedda. © Therese Gedda

Culture has never been more important than it is today. The competition for top talent, or High Achievers, is fierce. There is great debate, however, of how to attract and keep the best people. For founders building a company, there are a million things to do and a steady flow of tasks that require their full attention, so why prioritize something that seems so “fluffy” as culture? 

Besides the numbers that back up the importance of culture, for instance, culturally-driven companies can see 18 percent more revenue per employee than the average, it affects so much more than the bottom line. I’ve been working with founders and leaders around the world as an executive coach, keynote speaker, and cultural consultant for over 17 years. For the last three years, I’ve seen greater curiosity and priority placed on employee engagement and corporate culture. Generally speaking, awareness and acknowledgment of the importance of culture are more apparent in the United States than many other places. However, when running a fast-growing company, it is easy to overlook how culture impacts business.

What is company culture?

Culture is the heart of the company, and the values of the culture dictate everything. Your company culture determines how your people interact with colleagues, partners, and customers. It influences how leaders keep your people motivated, appreciated, and focused. It determines how you celebrate successes and growth. Moreover, it affects engagement overall and drives behavior.

Company culture can be designed

I’m sure you’ve heard people talking about company culture as “something that is in the walls” of the business, and maybe you have even heard people questioning the ability to influence culture in one way or another. 

One of the most misunderstood parts of culture is that it can actually be designed, but it requires attention. Culture will happen regardless of whether you decide to invest in it or not. However, without a clear focus on culture, it risks becoming mediocre and drives away the people you want to attract to your business.

So, a thriving culture can be designed, but the decision must be made to design it and to design it well. The foundation of a thriving culture goes way beyond a banner with a few nice words. It influences everything from customer service and product development to internal KPI’s and vacation policies. These components become the heart of every decision, and they determine your company’s direction daily. However, some founders overlook the fact that without designing a thriving culture, it will sooner or later become mediocre and ineffective. 

Company culture can be scalable 

The key is to live by your culture as you scale it; culture is not stagnant or something you do once…it is dynamic and constantly evolving. It determines the behavior of every employee. Moreover, company leaders are usually the primary cultural ambassadors, and, through their example, a strong company culture becomes a way of life. For instance, designed rituals, traditions and rewards are just a couple of aspects influenced by a purpose-led, cultural-oriented company.

The examples of how to live in line with your culture are endless. Let me tell you about a client of mine; we will call him John. John is a Founder and CEO whose company is growing fast, and they are just about to move to another office space. However, the COO suggested splitting the teams into different rooms and putting the engineers in an open-office environment. Being a tech-driven company where culture is prioritized, this move would negatively influence their tech talent in a drastic way. The employees’ ability to concentrate without constant interruptions would be challenged, and symbolically, they would feel devalued as all other team members in the company would be given a window office space, which was seen as prime real estate. So, instead of settling for a subpar solution, we spent time analyzing the challenge with the company’s values and culture in mind. The solution became to put the CEO out in the open to be available for his team when he was in the office. He travels a lot, so when he’s in the office, the team members highly appreciate his presence. His own office today doesn’t serve the necessary purpose as the employees don’t always know when the CEO is actually in the office. By transforming the CEO’s new planned office into a meeting room with a comfortable couch, great lighting, and a round table for brainstorming meetings, there was another room available for the engineers. This would give every team member a window seat and demonstrate the importance of everyone in the company, regardless of their title. As a result, this will increase individual engagement as the newly designed office will increase productivity for all. Of course, culture goes beyond the office space, but just as the way in which a leader empowers his or her people to perform, the environment is part of the culture and has a considerable impact on overall employee engagement.

So, what does this all mean? Investing in a strong company culture is critical to building the foundation of a people-centric organization. This starts with investing in a cultural foundation to later design cultural frameworks supporting futuristic leadership, value-based recruitment, high-performance training, and more. 

So, how are you designing your company culture?

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