Nowhere To Hide: Company Culture Is In Full View

September 5, 2017by Mike LepisCultural TransformationLeadership and Strategy


Have you ever had a truly cringeworthy experience at work? If you haven’t already, then one is probably coming. Alternatively, can you recall a time at work when you thought to yourself, “Wow, I’m really proud to work here?”

Now, which scenario do you want to see on social media?

Nothing is a secret behind your closed network or even behind an NDA. Employees have voices, and they are going to use them. Whether or not you realize it, your employees are your employer brand. Technology has given them a platform and articles spotlighting positive employee culture have given them a measuring stick. Do the right thing, and this transparency can be a megaphone for your amazing culture and raise your company’s image for customers and future employees. But do the wrong thing and, well, you get the picture.

Wrap Your Head Around Company Culture

While amazing office spaces, team building adventure races, safari off-sites in Africa or chili cook-offs are all nice, these are not the core of your culture.

Culture is the personality of your company

For us pragmatic communication folks, let’s agree that your company’s culture is your unique personality that influences everyone within your company. Culture dictates how customers are engaged — it’s the personification of your brand. No advertising, training or promotion can fix a toxic culture. If you don’t have a common culture, you have a multitude of cultures – and that is not good.

Culture is defined by leaders but brought to life by employees

So how do you create culture? The short answer is that you can’t. Culture is brought to life through consistent leadership and is lived and supported by leaders. It is much more what you do than what you say; manifestos, values and purpose statements are all great, but a poster, speech or “brand bible” isn’t going to have much weight if employees don’t see leaders bringing it to life.

What makes this possible? An engaged leader is a good start, but it doesn’t have to come from the leader. When leaders aren’t visible as catalysts for employee culture, you can turn to influencers or ambassadors at your company. When you have clearly articulated values, individuals throughout your organization become amplifiers for your employee culture and may be even more effective than leaders in influencing their peers.

Culture can come from a different perspective

Edgar Schein, the godfather of corporate culture, has a very interesting point of view that cuts through to non-empathetic, non-high touch folks. He asks people to look at how your company solves problems – and says that is your culture. Think about it, how does your company solve problems? Blame the customer? Money? Collaboration? Enthusiasm and optimism?

Your Culture Is Your Brand

You can’t escape it. Your brand is powered by employees: how they act internally will be reflected externally, which is something that you cannot ignore. And even if you are thinking, “well, only a small percent of people at our company have any direct interaction with our customers,” that is no excuse. These people are still indirectly affecting the customer experience by supporting (or not supporting) those employees who do have direct employee interactions.

Influence is not limited to leadership. Through a clearly-articulated employer brand with purpose and values, an engaged employee becomes an influencer. And when communicated consistently and with integrity, your culture will drive your brand.

You must recognize that company culture goes beyond employees. Consumers are influenced by the perception of your company culture. If you have a toxic internal culture, don’t expect to have a strong reputation with customers. And with so many people leveraging their buying power to align with companies that share their values, they will view you accordingly and make their judgment one way or another.

The Business Of Culture

Culture drives business. Research shows that a strong company culture results in higher employee-engagement scores. And what is the business of employee engagement? Higher engagement equals higher productivity, less absenteeism, increased productivity, etc. And overall, companies that have high employee engagement scores outperform companies that don’t.

Recruiting is also a key consideration for building a strong employee culture. Strong cultures attract top talent who have many choices – and culture is part of their consideration. Top talent does not mean executives, as they aren’t the only ones you’re trying to attract with a strong culture. Many companies are struggling to find top talent in retail, food service and labor. Competition is stiff for good people, and raising the entry-level pay is not the only way to make your organization stand out.

Take action and create an “employer of choice” culture

How do you begin to make this happen? Here is a short list to help you get started or to use as a checklist against your current efforts.

  1. Define your purpose and values. This is the foundation of your culture — align with the vision of the business. Make purpose and values relevant to employees, candidates, and consumers.
  2. Engage leadership as vocal advocates. Incorporate purpose and values in their messaging, and have them participate in culture-building activities.
  3. Know your people. Open a dialogue with your employees to discuss culture and the reality of their experiences. Don’t assume you know what they want, as you may end up trying to fix something that isn’t even a problem.
  4. Create a movement by adding action and sincere context to culture. Through activities and open forums, show support for the aspects of your culture that are most significant. Recognize employees when they personify the culture. Your company culture is on display every day, and with the right approach, you’ll have nothing to hide.

By understanding your culture and working to shape it — not dictate it — you are creating a workplace of substance, value, and meaning for all of those who are a part of it. The goal of a strong culture is a workplace that supports the brand, business and the people who make it happen. When your company culture is aligned with your purpose and brought to life by those who are a part of it, reaching this goal isn’t work, it’s just who you are.

Looking to communicate or transform your culture? Let’s talk.

This article was also published on Forbes.

Mike Lepis

As a Chief Strategy Officer, Mike leads our team to develop strategy, insights and creative solutions to drive employee engagement. He believes through human-centered design and strategic communications—employees will get behind a brand and its mission.