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11 June 2024

Business Culture is More Than Bean Bags and Pizza Fridays

GUEST COLUMN:

Jess Morgan
Communications & Brand Consultant,
Alchemy Branding Studio

Think “company culture” and what springs to mind? A sleek office with comfy bean bags for informal meetings, unlimited snacks, and even a slide instead of a staircase?

It’s not uncommon now to throw in a ball pit, some crazy golf and a fully stocked bar, either. While these perks might give off a fun vibe and attract the interest of talent looking for quirks, they barely scratch the surface of what constitutes a company's culture. Importantly, these perks rarely ensure that good people stay for the long haul.

Having navigated the turbulent waters of business ownership myself, I've seen first-hand how a strong culture isn't built with snacks but with shared tears, triumphs, and support.

When I founded our creative agency in 2012, it was with the core purpose of building a business where everyone could show up as themselves, and where they would feel seen and heard. Having experienced a workplace where this was absolutely not the case, I made it my mission to do it differently.  When we closed the business in December, I hadn't anticipated quite how emotional it would be. It was hard to say goodbye to a business we’d built from the ground up, but it was even harder to say goodbye to the people who’d come along for the ride with us.

I made some mistakes, no doubt. There's a lot I would go back and do differently. However, one thing I will always be proud of is the culture we built with the most amazing team. I know we did that well because of the rallying cry of support when we had to let the team know the sad news. The way they all showed up during those last few days and gave us everything they had to try and wrap things up as best we could.

And tellingly, how our old team WhatsApp group is alive and kicking as we all support each other through transitions, new chapters and adventures, with the occasional drinks meet-up thrown in to put the world to rights.

Culture starts with people. It's about shared values, behaviours, how we treat each other and attitudes. It's never about stuff.

What Makes a Good Company Culture?

A good culture is about respect, ethical behaviour, and active engagement. It isn't declared; it's demonstrated daily, not just through words but through consistent actions. When we closed our business, the overwhelming support and unity of our team in those final days underscored the strength of the culture we had cultivated. They weren't just employees; they were passionate participants in a shared vision.

Employees don't just seek a pay cheque from their jobs; they look for a place where they feel an integral part of the community—a place where their contributions are recognised, their voices are heard, and their presence is valued. Social media posts shouting about ‘great culture’ aren’t enough. It’s about action and recognition.

Recognition can be as simple as a shout-out in a team meeting, or as significant as company-wide in a newsletter. The key is a consistent and genuine recognition process that makes an employee feel valued for their specific contributions.

To truly hear your employees means engaging with them in meaningful ways—asking for their input on decisions that affect them and the company, and actually incorporating their feedback into your strategies. It means creating channels for open communication and ensuring they are effective and truly two-way.

Training and development opportunities also play a significant role here, as they show a commitment to the employees' growth and future within the company.

A workplace that values its employees promotes fairness, equality, and inclusivity. It's a place where diversity is celebrated, and every employee, regardless of their background or role, feels they belong. In such environments, employees are not only more likely to stay but also thrive and contribute to their fullest potential.

How to Build a Great Company Culture

At our company we ensured our values were more than just posters on the walls. Here’s a quick guide:

  • Behavioural Expectations for Leaders: Set clear expectations for leaders to act as role models for the company’s values. Regularly evaluate leaders on how well they embody these values in their leadership practices.
  • Leadership Development: Invest in training and development programmes that focus on ethical leadership and effective communication to ensure leaders have the skills necessary to lead by example.
  • Regular Updates: Hold regular meetings where leaders share important updates, celebrate achievements, and discuss challenges openly with the team.
  • Feedback Mechanisms: Establish clear mechanisms for employees to give feedback, ask questions, and express concerns. This might include regular surveys, suggestion boxes, or open-door policies.
  • Training Programmes: Provide training to enhance communication skills across the organisation, focusing on clear, respectful, and constructive communication practices.
  • Value Statements: Develop clear, actionable value statements that are easy to understand and can be applied in daily operations.

As we put the world to rights, whether in team WhatsApp groups or over occasional drinks meet-ups, it becomes clear that the heart of any company is its people. When these people are supported in an environment that respects and values them, they not only commit their talents and energies to your vision but also help carry that vision forward to new heights.

By prioritising a culture that truly resonates with everyone within the company, you're not just building a team; you're nurturing the leaders of tomorrow and ensuring that your company remains relevant, resilient, and respected far into the future.

*Jess Morgan is a Communications and Brand Consultant and co-founder of new agency Alchemy.

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