Why culture is the foundation for all businesses

Great culture is built on bringing together new voices, asking more questions, imagining different perspectives, exploring unique passions and running rapid experiments.

Where does great culture come from?  It stems from a perfect marriage of three factors, a safe environment, shared vulnerability and enhanced purpose. These are the pillars, if used in perfect harmony, will bring out an optimum culture within an organisation, and this will feed into the fulfilment of the organisational strategy and moreover drive individual departments to freely express their own thoughts and ideas and develop their own strategy without feeling restricted.

Shortly after Solstice team visited us (Growthafrica) to discuss analysing and optimising our digital landscape

Safety in this sense is not necessarily confined to the security of the premise, or the architectural design per se, in this context it refers to the organisational environment and what makes it up. It is how the employees feel when they are at the workplace, surprisingly it’s the things that seem so trivial that contribute to one’s feeling of safety. As human beings, we are deeply social in our make-up, and we, whether we would like to admit it or not, like to feel a sense of belonging some institution or a group of individuals. When it comes to the individual in the organisation, certain cues of belonging further assist in the formation of a holistic culture. These are;

  • Close physical proximity
  • Profuse amounts of eye contact
  • Physical touch (handshakes, hugs)
  • Lots of short energetic exchanges
  • High level of mixing (everyone talks to everyone)
  • Few interruptions
  • Lots of questions
  • Intensive, active listening
  • Humour, laughter
  • Thank you, opening doors, etc

The cues above should not be ignored, to ignore them is to ignore the human being. Established organisations, startups and even entrepreneurs should commit these cues to memory when onboarding new hires or even dealing with current staff, these signals should be part and parcel of their character structure.

On an organisational level, culture can be developed by adopting practices that make the workplace warm and friendly and a haven that employees can run to. Just to name a few practices the organisation can adopt:

  • High levels of proximity within the workplace
  • More face-to-face interaction with employees
  • Whole-group debates
  • Game nights
  • Wide open Friday forums

The other factor that is crucial is a vulnerability, it is a state of mind that is very crucial to the development of culture. Daniel Coyle, an author, says this;

“Exchanges of vulnerability, which we naturally, tend to avoid, are the pathway through which trusting cooperation is built”

A perfect case study of stellar organisation culture is at Pixar “The Braintrust”, developed organically out of the rare working relationship among the five men who led and edited the production of Toy Story–John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich, and Joe Ranft.  The trust is made up of individuals within Pixar, who meet every few months to brainstorm on animations to create for production. Its foundation is based on four pillars that enable the creatives to produce the magic we see today. The pillars are;

  • Trust & Candor
  • The right motivation
  • Braintrust has no authority
  • Vulnerability

The key to collaborating effectively in the Brain trust is candour, this is the glue. Lack of candour will lead to a dysfunctional environment, and ideas and creativity will be stifled greatly. High openness and truthfulness are encouraged when ideas are being expressed, Pixar uses this platform to root out mediocrity and reel in the best they can get from the best individuals.  The Braintrust evolved from a tight, well-defined group working on a single film into a larger, more fluid group. Over the years, its ranks have grown to include a variety of people–directors, writers, and heads of the story–whose only requirement is that they display a knack for storytelling. The one thing that has never changed is the demand for candour. It is only this state of mind of vulnerability and free-spiritedness that can enable the creation and execution of strategy in an organisation.

The last but certainly not least pillar is the purpose, this is the fuel to the fire and the driver of the organisation. The Harvard business review analytics reported the findings after surveying global business executives, they found that purpose;

  • 89% drives employee satisfaction
  • 84% affect organizations ability to transform
  • 80% increases customer loyalty
  • 46% of companies have a strong sense of purpose

The purpose is the moral virtue that if found and solidified within an organisation can lead to generational success. It is the reason the employee gets to work in the morning and puts ineffective hours for the benefit of the business. Purpose spread across and engrained in the workforce can leave room for a laissez-faire style of leadership because the staff will be an entity on their own with the organisational vision in mind. This is how a company can adopt purpose at the workplace;

  • Showing it in the office
  • Tell & retell the organisation story
  • Development catchphrases and mottoes
  • Creation of a link between the present moment and future ideal:
    – Here is where we are
    – Here is where we want to go

It is highly advisable for organisations to understand the power of culture and how its presence can greatly help in the longevity of operations. Business owners should ask themselves a few questions to further analyse the kind of culture present in the organisation or lack of. These are;

  • What is the culture created in the team and what does the business want it to be?
  • What can be changed when dealing with teams?
  • How can change be measured?

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