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The Importance of Culture in the Workplace Or Reasons Why there’s a Nerf Gun on My Desk

Amber Dawn Woods

Amber Dawn Woods

Culture has been at the center of the modern workplace debate for years now. Just google it and you’ll be lost for days in definitions and examples, how to’s and how not to’s, successes and failures, and even companies solely existing to create it for you! And while it’s become a meaningless buzzword to some, countless studies and ongoing research seems to indicate that a strong and well-defined company culture can be key to a company’s success in the ever-evolving world marketplace.

Yet, somehow, in the midst of all the talk and all the success stories, small businesses seem to have lost the thread, lost interest, and moved on without any real change. Maybe that’s because there has been, and continues to be, too much noise, too many opinions. It’s become difficult to find the practical, day to day advice on what culture really is, how to create it, how to maintain and how to use it. And let’s face it, business owners have way more on their plate to worry about then whether setting up a ping pong table in a spare room is going to keep Tom in accounting from taking his expertise to the hot new startup down the road or if Jane in sales finds the new open floor layout conducive to her productivity.

But that’s where we’re wrong. We should worry. As the famous J. W. Marriott quote states, “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers and your business will take care of itself”. Today’s workforce, fully aware of what many have termed a talent shortage, is now firmly in the driver seat. Attracting, and more importantly to your bottom line, retaining, talented employees has less to do with compensation and prestige and more to do with what happens in your office between the phone calls and the meetings and the projects. It has to do with how your company makes people feel.

Perfect example, I was recently interviewing candidates for an awesome position with a local company offering above average, for our area, pay and benefits. And while the compensation package clearly enticed some amazing candidates, that’s not what they got excited about. They got excited about free breakfast. Free. Breakfast. Something that is probably valued at less than ten dollars a week!

But let’s be honest…it wasn’t the breakfast. It wasn’t even our favorite F word. (FREE, in case you were wondering.) These standout candidates were excited about working for a company that cared enough about their employees to do something extra to show appreciation. It gave them an insight into the culture and heart of the organization and resonated with them way more than all my assurances of good pay and comprehensive benefits and paid time off ever could.

And that’s why there’s a Nerf gun on my desk. Bright orange. Sitting among other random objects, proudly speaking directly to WHO we are and how we’re different.

See, culture is nothing more or less than the character and personality of your company. It’s what makes you different and unique and memorable. The behaviors and attitudes and day to day actions of every individual in the organization fusing together around your core values to define who you are and who you are going to be.

And whether you sit down and define it or not, whether you believe in its value, think you have it all figured out, or are waiting for the ‘culture craze’ to die down, your company already has its own specific culture. Maybe your culture is implied rather than explicitly defined. But I assure you, it’s there. And leaving your company culture to chance, allowing it to form naturally without carefully defining and cultivating it can have a significant impact on who you attract – both employees and customers – and puts you at risk of losing the recruiting war.

So often when I initially meet with clients to evaluate their need, I ask them to describe their company culture to me. And most of the time my question is met with blank looks, um’s and hmm’s and well….. Or on the flip side I get cookie cutter answers like ‘We’re laid back and friendly’ or ‘We work hard but we’re just a big family’. And while those statements might be true, they only scratch the surface and fail to express the company’s true identity. In order to control your company’s culture, you must first define it and then actively, and continuously, work to maintain and develop it.

I encourage you to take honest stock of your company culture as it is today. Ask an outsider to audit your culture from all angles and use the information gathered to create a plan. Define the culture you want, determine what your employees’ value, and embrace a culture that speaks to who you are and who you want to be. Your ability to hire and retain top talent depends on it.

And if you’re ever curious as to what else is lying around my office, stop by for a visit one day and I’ll tell you our story! I promise you, you’ll never forget us! After all, that’s what culture is all about.

Amber Dawn Woods