• 16.08.2021
    • Insight

    The importance of company culture

    Written By: Vicky Kelleher

    Around two years ago, following a period of significant growth, we decided to review who we are, who we’re for, and what we stand for. The company had gone from employing 50 to 200 people in a comparatively short amount of time and the culture we’ve always been so proud of, for the first time ever, started to change. It was unsettling. Anyone who knows us will know how proud we’ve always been of our organisational culture. It had manifested totally organically. We’d hired the right people – talented, passionate, ambitious – and in our start-up petri dish, culture had just grown.

    The thing about organisational culture is that if you don’t curate it, it will still exist: Without investment or attention, a collective influence of attitudes, ethics and beliefs will form organically and before you know it you have a culture you didn’t actually design. If you’re lucky, like we were, it’s brilliant. Ours was high energy. We were great friends who believed in the business so we worked hard and we played hard together. You can’t see culture but you can feel it, and we knew we had something special.

    In time, we recognised that the things that mattered to us were working together, trusting and being trusted, being committed to the business and each other, and having fun while we’re on the journey. Four simple words – Team, Trust, Commitment and Fun – became our company values. And we also set some ground rules – Have fun. Behave like an adult. No own goals. These values and guidelines balanced autonomy and accountability in a way that everyone understood.

    Over the years, we hired and grew, and grew and hired, all the while knowing that mindset was as important to our success as skillset.

    The other thing about organisational culture is that if you’re growing quickly and you’re not reminding everyone what you stand for, it starts to change shape. With so many new people, ours started to dilute. Not because we weren’t hiring right or because our people did anything wrong, but because we forgot to keep talking to them about it.

    Anyone who works in any organisation knows the impact this can have. Culture affects how we feel and behave, how we connect and communicate, and how successful a business can be. It’s important that everyone feels that their own values align with the company values, because true engagement starts there.

    During the following months we surveyed our ever-growing team to see how they would describe the company. We took what we learned and formed a management focus group to help align them with the company’s aspirations and our clients’ expectations.

    For the first time in 10 years we formalised a company purpose, mission, and values with the input of the whole team, setting radical goals for the next decade and bringing a spirit and belief system back into our language that we’d started to miss.

    We began awarding people who demonstrated the values, measuring individual performance against them, referring to our purpose, promises and values regularly in company communications and all hands meetings, displaying the values around the office, introducing them to new starters in their day 1 welcome pack, building other initiatives like our sustainability and diversity pledges around them.  Our values give everyone the information they need to make the right decisions for the company and a starting point for discussion if they’re unsure.

    This is our culture.

    We have always recognised how important the office environment is in nurturing culture. Our office allows us to work, connect, communicate, learn, and grow in ways that reflect who we are as individuals and as a business. But when Covid-19 hit, we were also glad to have formed the language and regained the feeling around our culture that bonds us all, because both transcend distance and physical presence.

    Your office plays an active part in defining your company culture, and facilitating business plans and productivity. But it’s part of a much more rounded package of brand, management, HR, and leadership initiatives that together design, create and maintain it.

    We hybrid-work now, like many other companies. Depending on job roles, personal preferences, the need to collaborate or just to spend time amongst friends, our office is occupied every day but not by the whole team. Nurturing culture when you’re not all together brings new challenges. It’s even more important to design and curate the working experience you want your employees to have if the environment they’re in is not within your control.

    We obsess over our culture as much as we obsess over our product. We build offices for our clients but we build culture for our employees. A great culture attracts great talent. Great talent challenges us to think differently and be better. And being better makes us stronger individuals and a stronger business.

    If you’re reviewing your office space, speak to your design team about your culture. Tell them your beliefs, traditions, values and aspirations so they can help keep them alive through design.