Weak company cultures can have a lot of negative effects on a business, including decreased productivity and increased employee turnover. Considering that cultural issues are largely preventable, their ubiquity among modern businesses might seem surprising. The problem is that business leaders often lack the perspective they need to view their own businesses realistically, and to address problems as they arise.
Strong company cultures are not just about preventing potential problems, though. Ultimately, a healthy company culture is one that fully realises the potential of all employees toward a common goal. To do that, business leaders first need to foster open communication with each other, and their employees.
Those businesses who achieve this become more innovative, resilient, and productive than their less successful competitors. Their workforce becomes more self-sufficient, and the culture helps to drive productivity on its own, freeing up time and energy that business leaders need to plan for the future.
Business leaders need better information
One of the biggest difficulties for business leaders is that they’re often working with an inaccurate picture regarding the current state of their business. It’s easy to view an operation with rose tinted glasses when you’re at the top of it. Not only is it a matter of personal pride, it’s also an issue of communication. Employees are typically wary of sharing potential issues with their superiors, regardless of whether those are structural or personal.
According to a recent study by the Australian HR institute, as many as a third of employees believe that serious changes need to be made to develop an ethical and positive culture in their workplace. The most common causes cited are “a culture of never failing”, “a lack of clarity about what an ethical culture looks like”, and “leaders acting in their own interests and setting wrong examples.” This clearly frames the issue of poor communication as a reflection of a company’s values.
Fighting back against fear
When addressing a personal problem, such as workplace discrimination or bullying, employees might fear backlash from coworkers, managers, and the organisation itself. Similarly, more general productivity or process issues often go unreported for fear of developing a reputation as a problem employee. This fear is something employers fundamentally need to deal with in order to build a strong company culture. That, in turn, something that is best addressed through the company values that define that culture.
Businesses need to clearly set and prioritise company values, and then hold employees to those values at every level. Critically, those values need to prioritise the long term success of the business as a whole, rather than short term individual infallibility. An employee who feels that admitting a mistake is harmful to them personally can’t be expected to communicate an issue unless there is no other option. Those who don’t have to deal with this concern, on the other hand, can freely share even unflattering information with their superiors.
Building a company culture that serves both employer and employees
Once a business has developed open communication between business leaders and rank-and-file employees, it can begin to identify potential problems, and strategically work to build a strong, growth-oriented culture. This means bringing employees into the long term development of the business, and integrating their ideas both to develop the company’s larger culture, and to drive innovation and growth.
Employees are a part of the culture
Culture isn’t a code of conduct that’s simply imposed on employees. Rather, it’s an expression of the values of the entire business, including the relationships between individual employees, employees and their leaders, and the larger business to its clients and partners. This means that all of the people that make up a business need to be involved in developing, adapting, and sustaining their culture. As long as business leaders can ensure that communication is open and uninhibited, all of the people that make up a business can work together to build that larger identity. More importantly, they can build stronger personal connections to each other, which boosts morale and retention, while accelerating the exchange of ideas.
Leveraging communication for innovation
Besides allowing for the creation of a cohesive culture, great communication naturally boosts productivity through innovation. Ideally, this comes in the form of better cooperation, where employees become more willing to share their expertise with each other to achieve a common goal. However, even businesses that haven’t cultivated this cooperative attitude can benefit. In any business, employees inevitably exchange information, workplace annoyances, and ideas to address those annoyances. In a workplace that enjoys open communication, those ideas don’t stay confined to the break room, but actually make it in front of decision makers.
The basis of any strong, healthy business is good communication. Once this is achieved, the business can begin working with its employees to build a unified culture, and to fully take advantage of the talent that’s available to it.