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Company culture: is your organisation a BFF or a frenemy?


The necessity for remote working has highlighted a real opportunity for employers to live their company values and nurture a relationship based on mutual respect.

27th Oct 2020
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We’ve all been to that workshop where the facilitator asks us, “If your business was a brand of car, what car would it be?”, or “If your business was an animal what animal would it be?”. We’ve even been asked, “If your business was a person, what kind of person would it be?”.

In an effort to go beyond the worn-out language of values, it can be useful to draw on a broader vocabulary. After all, it’s hard to put culture into words. It’s hard to even define what we mean by the word culture itself. 

Bland values

I would put a small amount of cash (don’t hold me to this) on one or more of these words featuring in your company values: integrity, entrepreneurial, innovative, honesty, customer-centric, people-centric, trustworthy, passionate, quality, bold/brave, collaborative, results-orientated, kind and (let’s not forget) fun.

Nothing wrong with any of these. They’re just bland. I mean, of course you’re honest, you’ve got to be entrepreneurial these days, and having fun is important.

It’s just that everyone in your industry is saying the same thing. None of these words are differentiating you from the rest of the crowd. But why does that matter? 

Remote undermines culture

Cultures aren’t created by the words we put on the values statement. Culture is the result of the lived experience of the people who work there. You might say you’re honest but withhold information from staff because you’re worried about how they will react.

You had the best of intentions but when they find out later that you knew (three months ago) there was going to be a reorganisation and half of them would lose their jobs, that is their experience of the culture, regardless of the sleepless nights you had knowing you couldn’t tell them yet. 

Culture is the result of the lived experience of the people who work there.

An office helps with culture. Exposed brickwork, fresh fruit in the kitchen, a casual dress code, plenty of room to park your bike, meeting rooms called ‘The Batcave’ and ‘Jedi’ all give a flavour of the culture you’re trying to create. 

The physical space does some of the values work for you. When you take the space away, what’s left? 

Share your culture change story with us!

Would you be friends? 

We need a different kind of culture than we did when we were primarily office based. We need our people to feel connected, trusted, given flexibility around other commitments, cared about, like they belong to something even though they work remotely.

When you work from home the work-self and the non-work-self collide. If there is a mismatch it’s more obvious, so people increasingly want to be authentic. They don’t want a tension between their identity at work and home. 

By all means tell your clients you’re passionate about results. But describing your culture requires some new thinking and new language.

And that’s why I’ve started asking, not just what kind of person your company would be, but whether you would be friends with your company if your company was a person. 

If we like our company because we like its personality we are more likely to stay loyal and do what needs to be done.

You don’t say, “I really enjoy hanging out with Jason because he’s so entrepreneurial”. You say, “I really enjoy hanging out with Jason because he’s a great listener”. You don’t say, “I love a night out with the girls because they are results-orientated”. You say, “I love a night out with the girls because I can be myself and not feel judged”. 

That’s what we are looking for from our employer now. If we like our company because we like its personality we are more likely to stay loyal and do what needs to be done.

When you take the office away, what’s the difference between working from home for company A or company B? The only difference is the way that company makes you feel about working there. Do you feel appreciated, loved, cared for, heard, challenged and trusted? 

If your company is demanding, impatient, judgmental, distrusting, anxious, only interested in what you can do for it not what it can do for you. Or it’s all work and no play, what kind of friend would it be? 

Tips for creating a BFF culture

  • Differentiate between your external facing values and the way you describe the culture internally. 
  • Culture is about how a place feels and therefore how the people who work there feel. Listen to how staff feel. 
  • The point of company culture is to create an environment where people can do their best work. What gets in the way of that and how can those obstacles be removed? 
  • Cultures aren’t created by activities but by behavior and attitude. Sending donuts home for employees or having a quiz on the first Thursday of the month won’t make up for a lack of empathy by leadership, pointless meetings or pushing for targets over and above the wellbeing of people who are showing signs of burnout. 

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