Workplace Culture – it’s a term frequently used by management “gurus” and just as frequently ignored by many who see culture change programs as nothing more than the warm and fuzzy stuff – yoga classes, paying for Christmas drinks, providing fruit in the staff room and the odd “mufti day”. Sure, these things have their place, but their place is as part of a broader strategy which is directly linked to and designed around achievement of overall business objectives.

In fact, workplace culture is so much more than the warm and fuzzy stuff… can be absolutely key to building competitive advantage within your business, regardless of whether your business has 3 or 3,000 staff. Consider this quote from Giam Swiegers, former CEO of the successful professional services firm Deloitte Australia;

I’m an accountant. I’m all about making money. If you want to make money, get your culture right first. Don’t waste your time on the other stuff

Giam Swiegers

So Just What is “Workplace Culture” ?

The most meaningful yet simplest definition of workplace culture is that it’s “the way we do things around here” – the shared expectations and collective understanding of just what and how things get done within a particular workplace. Culture is not the mission and values of the business: culture is the (usually) unwritten reality. And that reality can vary significantly from one business to another, as can the impact of culture on business success.

Consider which of these businesses has a culture that puts it at a competitive advantage:

At ABC Products, it’s the practise and the unwritten expectation that people;

  • Contribute new ideas; 
  • Collectively set challenging yet realistic goals, plan and work toward their achievement; 
  • Celebrate achievement of individual and team objectives;
  • Are friendly, welcoming and sensitive to the needs of others in the group and the group as a whole, and; 
  • Produce high quality products and provide great customer service. 

At XYZ Products, it’s the practise and the unwritten expectation that people;

  • Make decisions without consultation, “because that’s what bosses do”, or avoid making them at all; 
  • Pick other people’s ideas to pieces; 
  • Do things and make decisions only to please others, regardless of what might deliver the best outcome for the business; 
  • Never, ever make mistakes (and if you do, hide them !), and; 
  • Always follow the rules, no matter what. 

Which business do you think will attract and retain the best and brightest staff? Which will have the better chance of achieving sustainable, long-term success? Which would you rather work in, or indeed own/manage? Not too hard to decide is it?

Take a moment and think about the culture within your business……the shared understanding, the unwritten rules and expectations – is the current culture within your business an asset or a liability? Is the culture within your business helping or hindering your efforts to achieve Success Through People?