Culture: why it matters and how to reap the benefits
Ed Turner, Managing Partner, Taylor Vinters
Every workplace has a culture but not every business makes it a strategic priority. In our fast-paced and ever changing technological world, this could be costly. Creating a culture which engages employees and motivates them to work towards shared goals can result in a more dynamic, agile and successful business.
At Taylor Vinters, we knew that if we wanted to be the law firm for innovation, we had to create an environment where we walk the talk. Over the last 10 years, this has seen us develop and refine a culture aligned to this aim and focused on our passion for working with entrepreneurial businesses.
This hasn’t been easy but it’s a vital part of a long-term strategy that is benefiting our people, clients and business as a whole.
Here I outline what we’ve learnt along the way and how your business could reap the same benefits.
Start by establishing your identity
You can’t develop a company culture without first establishing your identity. In other words, what your business stands for, its driving force and purpose. From this will fall your commercial strategy – and your culture.
For a founder-led business set up by passionate entrepreneurs who already have a vision, this may be relatively quick and easy to do, leading to a culture which more naturally emerges.
For more established businesses, it takes a significant investment in time, including engaging with people from across the organisation to find out what is important to them.
In doing so, it’s important that leaders don’t feel they have to try and accommodate everybody’s views. Inevitably you won’t be able to please everyone but that doesn’t matter. Your focus should be on the most common themes that emerge from your discussions, which you can then build upon to establish the company’s identity.
Focus on alignment
For a culture to genuinely engage employees, leadership teams must align their people with the identity they set out.
Some employees will choose to adapt and embrace it but there will be others that will decide the company’s identity isn’t right for them. This may include some of your most senior or talented people, but leaders must hold their nerve.
You can’t create an authentic identity unless you are brave enough to let people leave if they don’t agree with what you’re setting out. Leaders have to take the view that it’s more important for the majority of employees to believe in your core identity and culture then to focus on pleasing a small number of individuals.
Don’t be afraid to turn away clients
The same thinking applies to a company’s commercial strategy and its clients.
If potential new clients don’t align with your strategy and vision, then don’t be afraid to turn them away.
Commercially, that will result in difficult decisions and compromises, but your business won’t be able to retain its authentic identity and culture without taking those bold steps.
This isn’t an approach that can be adopted quickly. It takes time to develop and to achieve buy in from the rest of the organisation, but is a crucial element in creating a culture-led business. It proves that as a business, you’re not just talking about creating an effective culture, but taking action.
Proactively protect your culture
Once you’ve clearly defined your culture, the next challenge is to protect and maintain it.
When a founder-led business starts to scale up, this is when its culture is at most risk as the enthusiasm of the individuals that started the business is not influential enough to maintain it.
This is why it’s important to put frameworks in place to protect your culture, including making sure that people who are recruited into the business are aligned to its identity.
Remember that people looking for a job can tell you what you want to hear. Ensuring you have a strong HR team in place to ask the right questions will ensure that candidates are genuinely the right fit for your organisation.
Create a communications strategy
To establish authenticity, leaders must effectively communicate the culture to employees and clients.
Externally, this could be through your marketing activities such as case studies which don’t just talk about the business but clearly demonstrate how you work and your approach to business.
Internally, you will need to find simple but effective ways that help your people understand your culture and the behaviours needed to achieve your aims.
Creating and publishing your company values can help with this. These shouldn’t be prescriptive but provide employees with basic parameters that help them understand what your business stands for and what you expect from them. These values will also provide your employees with useful reference points to make decisions more effectively and quickly.
Whichever way you choose to communicate your culture, the method must be continuously adapted in line with external and internal change. Although your principles will stay the same, there will be times that you will need to refine how these are communicated either by shifting the tone or emphasis to ensure you retain people’s confidence, especially through challenging times.
Unlock the potential of your business and its people
From streamlining the decision-making process through to creating a motivational environment for your workforce and boosting productivity, culture has a positive impact on every part of a business.
In our increasingly complex and ever-changing world, these benefits should not be underestimated.
Building an effective culture takes time and involves some difficult decisions but if you get it right, it will set you apart from your competitors and put you on a more sustainable path to commercial success.