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On Leadership: Seven reasons culture is key to your company’s success


“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” – Simon Sinek, author, “Start With Why”

Recently, I was asked to give a master class on culture and DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) to our industry peers at the Alliance of Area Business Publishers’ annual publishers meeting. I was flattered to be considered an expert on areas of leadership that are so relevant and timely but a little nervous — what could I contribute that would be helpful in such changing times? 

My expertise on these topics comes from both personal and professional experience; I have worked in organizations with positive, supportive cultures and in some with toxic cultures. I know firsthand what a difference one’s work environment makes, and I’ve even left jobs specifically because the leadership, ethics or policies of the organization were unsupportable. I could tell you about screaming bosses, stressed-out colleagues, lack of role clarity, ridiculous dress codes, offensive watercooler talk and blatant discrimination. But I can also tell you about leaders who got it right — trust, clarity, transparency and fairness. 

Now in a leadership role, it’s my job to foster and maintain a healthy culture. So I try to draw from both the good and bad examples. But the rates of change and disruption today present constant challenges to how the work environment feels and operates. Culture can be a moving target.

The stakes in today’s working world are high and culture is now a business imperative. A recent SHRM report asserts that workplace culture will mean the difference between success and failure in a post-pandemic world. The report states: “Now is the time to focus on communication, transparency, trust and all of the other tenets of a strong work environment — one that puts workers first.”

Everyone tosses around the word culture, but what is it exactly? Miriam Webster’s dictionary says culture is: “The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” More simply put, a recent McKinsey & Co. article says: “Culture starts with what people do and how they do it.”  

Why does culture matter? Most businesspeople have heard management guru Peter Drucker’s famous quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” I love that quote, but in my master class, I maintained that culture is actually part of strategy, and that DEI should be embedded within those – not a separate, stand-alone thing.

In my experience, culture drives success internally, which in turn drives success externally. The attitudes, values, goals and practices – including DEI – have to start within the organization. A recent HRD (Human Resources Director) article says, “Culture matters because it has a direct effect on people factors such as employee engagement and motivation; and productivity factors such as product and customer service quality.”

Here are seven reasons culture is so essential to your organization’s success:

Culture defines your company’s internal and external identity. Culture and brand go hand in hand. A healthy and inclusive culture will inform how your team, customers, vendors, partners and other stakeholders view you and feel about working with you. You still have to get the brand right, but if a positive culture is there, you have an advantage.

Culture helps you live your core values. If you truly believe in your values, that conviction will come through in how your team behaves. Are your values simply words on a page, or how you and other leaders actually act? 

Culture transforms employees into advocates. If your team and customers feel welcome, seen, supported and valued, they will broadcast that information to others. Similarly, if undervalued or mistreated, they’ll also share that vocally. Culture can make the difference between high net promoter ratings or high net detractor scores.

Culture helps you attract and retain the best people. The SHRM survey states, “Today’s employers are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit new staff, making it all the more challenging to grow their business and the economy.” A positive culture boosts not only your reputation for hiring, but is also a significant factor in why employees choose to stay.

Culture unifies your company into a team. Any organization that wants to develop productive, high-performing teams needs to first foster a culture that’s positive and open and encourages collaboration. This kind of a culture can help facilitate teamwork. When teamwork becomes an integral part of your culture, it is a win-win for the company, employees and customers.

Culture has an impact on employee well-being. A culture that values employees through honest and effective leaders and managers, role clarity, an inclusive environment, and fair compensation and benefits contributes to positive employee well-being. Employees who feel supported in physical and mental well-being and feel they have meaningful work are more likely to stay, advance and recommend your organization. 

Healthy culture drives performance. The McKinsey & Co. article indicates that culture correlates with performance. Their comprehensive research shows that “those with top quartile cultures (as measured by their Organizational Health Index) post a return to shareholders 60 percent higher than median companies and 200 percent higher than those in the bottom quartile.”

You may not be able to control the markets, public health, interest rates, geopolitical disruption or other threats, but you can decide how you want your workplace to operate and feel. As David Cummings, co-founder of Pardo, says: “Corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur.” Choosing to focus on culture is, simply put, a good investment.


Suzanna de Baca

Suzanna de Baca is President and CEO of Business Publications Corp.

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