CULTURE: IT’S A word used a lot in the workplace; how a company’s culture differentiates it from the competition, how it ‘eats strategy for lunch’, why it must be a top-down process and so on.
There are countless papers, articles, and programmes that try to describe and define company culture. Former McKinsey boss Martin Bower summed it up best when he described culture simply as “the way we do things around here”.
Since Bower wrote those words over 50 years ago, culture has become one of the most valuable assets a company can possess.
Commonly held to be critical to talent acquisition, employee engagement, commercial partnerships, and much more, companies are spending huge time and investment on getting the culture just right.
Zappos and Amazon will famously pay an employee who doesn’t feel that they fully fit the culture a portion of their future salary to leave the company.
So why the huge investment in culture? Simply put, because it works.
Culture creates performance
Just about every part of a company’s operations perform better when the overall culture is positive and strong, and our experience has been no different.
Along with providing a greater sense of purpose, through initiatives such as giving team members the opportunity to volunteer in their local communities, we are obsessive about giving our people clear paths for progression internally.
Through extensive learning and development programmes, yellow belt initiatives and internal innovation projects, we have created a culture of internal promotion, resulting in more than 80% of support roles being filled internally.
However, this development of a strong company culture doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, investment, and clarity of purpose to create.
In an age of digitally powered hyper-growth, many companies find themselves having to create such a culture not just in one location, but across the globe.
As an organisation scales into new geographies, often on different continents, one of the greatest challenges is getting the new teams to understand and buy in to ‘the way we do things around here’. ‘Here’, of course, being HQ.
Spreading the word
Just six years ago, Voxpro was a 400-person company, operating from Cork. Two years later, it was a 1,600-person company, operating from seven centres across three continents. Today, Voxpro is part of a TELUS organisation that has 35,000 team members in 27 sites across three continents.
Spreading our culture from Cork to the rest of the world has been a challenge, but one that, through trial and error, we have successfully overcome.
One of the things we’ve learned along the way is to allow wiggle room for local adaptation. The processes you put in place to successfully scale your culture need to have enough wriggle room built in to allow for cultural differences.
Not everything is going to work everywhere so allow the process to breathe and evolve accordingly – don’t shoehorn it in.
We also saw a need to allow enough time to settle before opening the culture floodgates.
When new sites open, the wrong thing to do is to bombard culture in the door, it’s too much and people need to adjust to some basic things like who is their line manager, where the fire exits are located, and where they’re going to get their morning coffee.
Culture should be trickle fed into a new site: there should be traces of it from day one so that when things have settled down, adding more tools that reinforce a set of core beliefs or values are not changed, they are congruent and the world inside work makes sense.
Part of the process involves identifying culture ambassadors, and physically putting them in new sites. We put them in positions of influence so they can challenge the status quo, reshape behaviours and be able to say with credibility ‘that’s not the way we do things round here’.
When your company is in hyper-growth and you are trying to spread your culture and values across an ever-growing number of people and offices, it can at times feel quite uncomfortable.
You’re nervous about how it will be received, what people will think, and that it won’t really work in certain places and cultures.
The reality is you’re right to feel this way. Each geography that you open in has its own particular culture, employment law, and general approach to work and productivity.
But time and time again, building a strong single culture has been proven to provide returns far beyond the investment and, most important of all, you’ll be proud to tell your people and partners that this is ‘the way we do things around here’.
Brian Hannon is the chief commercial officer for Voxpro - powered by TELUS International.