Ask the Expert: Why Employee Alignment with Culture is Important
Every company has a culture, but it can be purposeful or it can be accidental. If no effort has been made to maintain it, culture will define itself. Jackie Dryden, Savage’s Creative Strategist, talks about the role culture plays in defining employee actions.
How do you define company culture?
It’s an organization’s beliefs, behaviors, assumptions, practices and values. The culture of a company should always be a manifestation of its purpose - it’s reason for existing outside of making a profit. Culture is how a company breathes life into its purpose and makes it real.
For example, if in a company, employees always have to deal with whatever is urgent and hot at the moment, they lose the opportunity to deal with what’s most important. That company, by default, develops a culture of panic and urgency instead of one of thoughtful preparation.
How do you spot a company with a strong culture?
To me, a strong culture happens when there is an emotional connection between everyone in the organization and the reason why they exist as a company. For example, early in the history of Whole Foods, the business was almost completely wiped out by a flood. They didn’t have the resources to pick up the pieces and rebuild - until a small crowd of customers bearing mops showed up to clean up the mess because they believed so passionately in Whole Foods’ mission and didn’t want to see it disappear. Employees worked for free, believing they would be repaid when the store got back on its feet. Suppliers fronted the company what they needed to restock, and investors reached into their pockets for additional capital to keep the business alive. These are actions of people who believe strongly in the culture of a business.
When a company has a strong culture, that culture is ingrained in the actions of every employee. There is a lack of tension, a sense of harmony and a strong desire to work there. That company has become a whole group of people believing in a purpose, which moves them all toward the same destination. That is powerful and infectious.
What is the biggest pitfall for leadership teams trying to establish a company culture?
The biggest pitfall is a lack of ownership and role modeling by the leadership. If top management doesn’t live and breathe the culture, no one else can be expected to buy into it.
It’s like Parenting 101: If parents want their children to be honest, they have to be honest with them. If they don’t want them to smoke, they shouldn’t model a smoking habit. It’s the same way at a company; if employees are going to be expected to align their beliefs with their company’s purpose and culture, the executive team has to lead the way.