Why Does Company Culture Really Matter?

April 2, 2018

Getting on the same page: When I say culture, I mean the set of values a company agrees upon and uses as guiding principles for their actions, and I also mean the personality or the "vibe" of the organization. These two things impact each other a lot.

If you’re one of the business leaders who says that company culture is too “fluffy” and enigmatic to focus on, prepare yourself for failure. Maybe you think employees should leave the feels at home and come to work ready to be a stolid professional focused on the bottom line outcomes, but the truth is those outcomes you’re hellbent on actually rely on leading indicators that grow from your culture.

To illustrate why you should care about culture even if you’re strictly a bottom-line numbers person, I'm going to share 3 logical reasons why company culture does impact great work outcomes:

1.) Of course great talent is a huge factor toward your success. But what makes these high achievers choose a company, and stay there? Great pay at a promising company is a level playing field for good talent - if I’m really a desirable candidate I can get that multiple places. Culture is what elevates you to be attractive above the others. You’ll earn better people and you’ll keep more of them, lowering turnover costs, and increasing your arsenal of skilled, acclimatized workers.

2.) Work and life are no longer separate. The way we work, and the things we work on, are very different from the time of work that birthed this “leave the feels at home” attitude. We have the work apps we need right in our pocket, we live in a global marketplace where time zones matter less and getting it done now matters more, customers are less committed and have more options than ever, and those of us who are go-getters face this reality whether at the office or not. We’re always working, and we’re always living. So it’s important for us to update our thinking about the role of culture in our organization as something that really does affect people who are spending a major part of their life on their work. If you treat your employees like people and don’t ignore that side of them, better yet proactively nurture that side of them, you’re going to get better people who produce better work for your company.

3.) Just like the old saying my mom still uses "you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar", values-based cultures capture more flies than board goals. People work better when it’s on something they actually care about. Really, do you expect everyone to care about shipping good software? No, you have to work by a value-based achievement mission that people can get behind, whether they care about the actual product or not. For example from my own experience at Gainsight, innovating a new business category while enabling our customers to be more successful at their jobs, while being ourselves and having fun, is way easier to get behind than "be the software of choice". Yes, I cared about my customers choosing the right software but it was for the sake of the mission, my teammates, our values, and my desire to do right by these people. The commission didn’t hurt but I could get that selling anywhere. So when the going gets tough and the obstacles are pummeling you, there has to be more that you’re working for, and it can’t just be the paycheck because that will produce “check the box” work that could be better.

So if you're thinking about whether or not focusing on culture is worth your time and investment, remember that at the end of the day, if people don’t like being there, they’ll leave and say bad things, and you’re not left with much to work with.

~Serra Hetzel, Head of Culture Consulting