Always Improving – Why Businesses Need to Be Innovating Their Culture, Even When it Works




  • — October 28, 2016

    If there’s one thing businesses can unanimously agree upon, it’s that all successful companies have a a strong company culture. Culture can make or break your organization, and helps foster long-term relationships between your business, your employees and your customers. It represents the values of your business and acts as a mission statement or promise that guides your organization through business, interpersonal relationships and tough times.


    Underneath your workplace culture lives a set of standards that dictate how a company operates, explaining the do’s and don’ts of the office. These principles lay out a set of standards to prevent miscommunication, confusion and keeps employees from guessing what’s appropriate and what isn’t. When you structure your company culture, you need to consider what types of actions are rewardable and which ones require disciplinary action. Promotions and punishments are doled out according to the “law” that everyone can easily access and understand.


    Not all cultures are created equal and the ones that succeed are cultures of true integrity that have been shown to add significant value to an organization. Your culture should be more than words or a series of values written on a website – these promises are only effective when upper management keeps its word and puts these values into action. “When a leader instills these principles into a company, culture is born,” Says Eric Sutter, founder and CEO of EMS Barcode Solutions. Sutter, who purchased Barcode Trading Post in early 2015, emphasized that culture concerns placed only second to valuation. And just like any aspect of your business, culture needs to be always improving or else you risk falling behind your competitors.


    In a recent Deloitte study, 82% respondents found culture can help achieve business goals and should be treated as a potential competitive advantage. Culture is trending towards becoming more of a business issue than an HR issue, and for many companies it’s still not well understood. Only 28% of the same survey respondents believe they understand their culture well, suggesting there is a significant gap between those who understand its importance and those who see culture in action at their workplace. At EMS Barcode, Sutter is always identifying new ways to improve his company’s culture, having already established a sound cultural foundation. “For example, one of our five pillars of importance is vendor relationships,” says Sutter. “Everyone talks about treating customers the right way, but you also need to think about your service to your vendors as well.” As part of EMS Barcode’s culture, employees are taught to respect their vendors and to treat vendors just like they would any customer.


    Another important aspect of workplace culture is establishing the employee-company relationship. Employee loyalty has been declining in recent years and researchers point fingers at the “new workplace” as the main culprit. A 2011 study found 78% of surveyed respondents would leave their current job if they felt the right opportunity came along, and there was a general feeling of disconnect and that the company did not care about them as individuals. “At your company, you need to identify what you want your culture atmosphere to look like,” says Sutter. “What you have to focus on is making sure everyone can be who they are. When you exclude people or restrict them from expressing who they are, they tend to stray from your company.” EMS Barcode works to create individualized work schedules based off on what matters most to their employees. Each plan is unique, depending on what an employee values and works to create a culture where employees feel appreciated and like they matter.


    But what happens when culture fails to improve year over year? Banks in particular are known for their work-hard culture that has yet to change in the last decade or so. Take Bank of America Merill Lynch for example. In 2013, the banking giant faced intense public scrutiny when a dedicated intern passed away after working for three days straight, with no sleep. Reports of extreme working conditions raised questions about the culture of high-intensity, rigorous hours surrounding the banking industry. For bankers, and interns especially, they are surrounded by a culture of needing to impress by any means necessary, which creates a toxic environment for employees.


    Similarly, Wells Fargo employees were stuck trying to accomplish the bank’s aggressive sales goals. The bank admitted last month to creating millions of fake bank accounts in order to meet monthly sales quotas, with many current and former employees explaining the mental health problems they suffered as a result of the bank’s culture. This archaic method of measuring employee performance created an environment in which unethical employee practices were rewarded and left many workers struggling to work under such extreme circumstances. As a result, Wells Fargo has been forced to reexamine their current corporate practices and identify methods to fix the bank’s culture.


    Culture is a business issue, and just like any other business issues it must be examined and improved upon from time to time. As a leader or a manager, you need to ask yourself what type of organization you would like to lead and what type of culture you want to foster for you employees. Encourage routine feedback and create open channels of communication to allow for suggestions and comments without consequence. When your employees feel like they have a voice and can share their concerns, businesses can begin to identify which areas need improvement. Ultimately, to improve your organization you need to look at every element that makes up your company, and that includes the workplace culture. Even if your culture works, there are always opportunities to improve or places that can be made more efficient, to launch your business ahead of your competitors.

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    Author: Barry Saltzman


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