A winning company culture: An imperative for business success

CEOs like to say that their employees are the business, but a healthy business actually adds up to more than the sum of the skills and talents of each individual it hires. Underlying the success (or failure) of the business is the culture that determines how the people in the team interact with each other, clients, and other stakeholders, as well as how they behave and perform in the workplace.

Whether the leadership team tries to actively shape the culture or not, each organisation develops a set of values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours shared among most people in its extended workforce. Culture isn’t synonymous with the rules, policies, values, vision statements and procedures in your employee handbook and contracts, but it will be influenced by them.

It is what employees believe about your business, the true core of their values, and how they behave on a day-to-day basis. For example, your employment contract might state that work begins at 9am and ends at 5pm, but employees may come wandering in late each morning if your culture doesn’t value punctuality. On the other hand — and this isn’t necessarily healthy, either – your company might have a workaholic culture where people believe they need to be the first in each morning and the last to leave to get ahead.

Aside from the basics – every organisation, for example, should be striving to be ethical, fair, and customer focused – there is no right or wrong business culture. For example, some organisations and industries might value entrepreneurial energy, innovation, and independence more than others where inclusivity, following processes, and consensus is important. CEOs need to think about what the ultimate purpose is for their business and how the culture will enable them to achieve their mandate and goals.

Here are a few ideas about creating a winning organisational culture:

1. Hire for cultural fit, not only for qualifications and expertise

Hiring the right people is the foundation of a great company culture. Our approach is to recruit entrepreneurial, self-motivated people at a young age and embed them into our business. We’re strategic in our recruitment process – we will only take people with the business acumen and energy level to succeed in a global workplace.

We value business insight and energy as much as experience and qualifications because these qualities can’t necessarily be trained into someone who doesn’t have them. Someone might have great credentials and be a high achiever in a more corporate setting, but we may pass on them for a slightly less experienced person who is a better match for our start-up culture.

Hiring people who don’t fit the business culture isn’t fair to them or to their co-workers. They’ll be unhappy at work, and this could be contagious. If you have a small team and you hire one or two people with forceful personalities- with the wrong fit for your company, they could change your work culture.

That said, it is also important to make space for diverse personalities and backgrounds in the workplace. We value the different perspectives and complementary strengths we get from the people in our office, who come from different walks of life.

2. Put formal structures in place to reinforce your business culture

Culture is what actually happens in the business and how people really behave. You can help to shape this with processes, policies, hierarchies, value statements, and performance indicators that tell people how you expect them to behave. But you cannot simply codify your culture into a set of documents and expect that people will embrace it.

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You should also use change management and training to help them understand what your culture is all about. Also, keep reinforcing your expectations in day to day discussions. There should be informal and formal ways to measure whether people are living the culture and to correct them if they are not. And there should also be recognition for those that embrace and embody the company values.

3. Be transparent

The senior leaders of your business need to be open with employees about what the goals are for the business. They need to share their thinking, values and strategies so that the people in the business know what is expected, what they are working towards, and how their behaviour and performance will be assessed.

4. Lead by example

Culture isn’t just about what the business leaders say they want from their employees at annual performance reviews or company celebrations. It’s also about what they do and say every day. If you say your company culture is about customer-centricity, but you don’t answer customer emails, you’re setting a bad example.

You can claim that you want your people to respect each other’s time, but your words will be empty if you are late for every internal meeting. Who you hire and dismiss will also speak volumes. In short, business leaders must ensure that their words and deeds line-up, and that the things they say in casual conversation remain aligned with culture.

5. Remember that it’s a two-way street

It is important to see culture as an enabler rather than something that restricts people or stifles innovation. Empower people rather than micro-managing them. Get their feedback about how they enjoy the workplace, whether through chats or employee surveys. And give them the freedom to grow and change.

That said, don’t leave people to flounder. In a global working environment you need to provide structures for training, mentoring, performance management, and incentivising staff. And if someone is struggling, they need access to help and support.

Johan Botes


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