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From Purpose to Practice: The Role of Culture in Business Success

Updated: 2 days ago

Whether you are aware of it or not, every company has a certain culture. The only question is whether it is a strong and healthy culture. Because a company culture, in addition to good leadership, largely determines productivity, creativity, and the ability to innovate for a company.

What is a culture, how do you build a culture and how do you monitor a company culture? These are questions that if asked at all, often lie with an HR department. Later in this blog, it will become clear to you that this may not be the appropriate department. In fact, a strong and healthy company culture usually comes from a company's purpose and vision. Jointly shaped by traditions, the company's history, and shared values, a corporate culture determines which new employees the company will attract or reject.

What exactly is company culture?

A "culture" can be defined as the collection of behaviors and ways of thinking that protect a group from outside dangers. Bedouins in the Sahara, for example, handle water very differently than an average apartment dweller in New York. Scarcity makes Bedouins very frugal with their water supply. In India, people place water or milk at a temple, while in predominantly Catholic Italy you see virtually none. Even this custom came from an outside threat.

Temples in India long ago suffered from rats. Since animals could not be killed, something clever had to be found. They decided to attract cats and you do that with a bowl of milk and some goodies. By now the rats and also the cats have disappeared, but the offerings that have now become a tradition remain.

Similarly, you see people in India walking with a stick and an umbrella. This used to be prescribed in the ancient Vedas. Even though some people think so, it is not that this was required from religious belief. The parasol was in fact a very practical protection against the bright sun and the stick was to chase away wild animals. Again, an outside threat, in other words.

This is also how it works with company cultures. They arise in response to that which may endanger the company or its employees.

Why is a strong and healthy company culture important?

A very strong and healthy company culture is important in a practical sense because it provides guidelines for how things work. They are like the unwritten rules of what you should and should not do and what is expected of employees. This concerns practical matters such as clothing, working hours, manners, and other agreements that simplify cooperation and unify the face of the outside world.

On the other hand, culture is important because it gives a sense of belonging. People naturally want to belong to a group, and a strong and healthy culture can contribute to this if nothing else. The company culture of Zappos, for example, is very different from that of IBM or Apple.

When employees work within a culture where they feel comfortable, committed, and have intrinsic motivation, job satisfaction, creativity, and the ability to innovate increases. This has a lot of positive impacts on stress from workload and absenteeism, for example.

What are the factors that determine company culture?

There are several factors that determine which company culture a company has. The main ones are:

Leadership style: Is there a hierarchy or not and is there fear, on the contrary, employees are given the freedom to make decisions and perform their work autonomously.

The past: Being able to look back on the past together creates a bond and forms a culture. Companies with high employee turnover, therefore, have a weaker culture than those where employees stay longer.

Traditions: Companies with many traditions, such as Friday afternoon drinks, celebrating a colleague's farewell, or having lunch together, have a stronger company culture than companies that have few or no traditions.

Processes: Companies with lots of processes tend to have a weaker company culture than companies where employees can work more autonomously. It is in human nature to figure out (together) how to do something better, and buttoned-up processes hinder the creativity to do so. This prevents a culture of working together in one's own way and inventing "ways" from growing.

Norms and values: Norms and values are expressed and unspoken manners and desired behaviors. The more employees are aware of these and act accordingly, the stronger the company culture.

The Influence of Purpose and Vision on a company culture

Purpose over Profit companies are gaining market share at lightning speed and for good reason. By having and communicating both internally and externally a company's purpose, customers and employees feel connected to the higher purpose of the company. Provided, of course, that they are touched in their hearts by the company's purpose. No customer or employee gets enthusiastic about a company's growth in sales or profits. The purpose and accompanying vision of the company does.

In addition, a company's purpose and vision guide the components that make up a culture. If a company's purpose has to do with a cleaner world, it will attract employees who will separate their waste, minimize plastic use, and come up with other initiatives that are in line with this purpose.

In this case, the company's purpose affects its traditions, processes, and values. The purpose of the company is thus overarching the culture. Because you attract unified employees, the bond between employees will be closer, reducing turnover and more likely to build a shared past.

How to build a strong and healthy culture

Zappos has chosen to create a culture book that employees update annually. That's one way, but it starts with the entrepreneur or CEO formulating the purpose and vision with or without the company's leaders.

Once that stands, you can work with or without the employees to describe the key things such as the desired leadership style, the desired traditions, the values and norms, and possibly some of the processes that are at the core of the desired company culture.

Capturing the company culture in (digital) book form is certainly pleasant for new employees, but it also provides a handle to evaluate whether the desired culture is achieved and monitored.

However, the pitfall in creating a culture book is that it becomes a kind of law book. By keeping it light-hearted, it not only reads more pleasantly but also becomes more of a game rule book than a law book. Examples of light-hearted communication include:

  1. We are all human and have a first name. Use that first name when greeting someone, going to help someone, or saying goodbye to someone.

  2. We prefer face-to-face communication. If that is not possible, we call. Only if that doesn't work, then we e-mail. In that order. And oh yes, e-mail is also useful to thank someone or give a compliment.

  3. When we hire someone, we ask three questions. Can the person do it? Does the person want it? Will the person do it? Once no is no.

  4. We don't fire anyone. At most, we request that they become very happy in another place.

  5. Every day we make sure that more is earned than is spent. Every day we also make sure that there is more laughter than grief. This is how we stay healthy on an economic and human level.

  6. Lead, follow, or get out of the way


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