By Delia De Villiers, Senior Account Manager at Irvine Partners
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a well-worn business axiom that has seen many businesses, across industries, installing a foosball table in the “pause” area and stocking the bar fridge rather than subsidising parking.
These gimmicks were understood as an effort to create a particular kind of company culture, one that fosters innovation, flexibility and creativity.
But what happens when people are working from home most of the time? The past 18 months have proved that remote work is more than viable for those engaged in intellectual work, but can company culture be nurtured and maintained remotely?
It’s a question countless employers have been grappling with, especially when it became clear that working from home was taking its toll. Social media memes were soon declaring that it’s not working from home as much as living at work. What then is the role, and even purpose, of company culture if most of what is commonly understood as company culture is manifested and maintained through in-person interactions?
Culture equals values
Reagen Kok, managing director at digital transformation agency Hoorah Digital, says company culture is the values, practices and collective beliefs that underpin the work and the ethos of the organisation. “It’s tempting to think of company culture as the bells and whistles, but culture runs far deeper than Friday afternoon drinks or the art on the wall. At Hoorah, for example, we believe that when everybody – employees, management and our clients – is aligned on the purpose of the work, the result is exponentially better,” he shares.
It’s similar for David Seinker, founder and CEO of The Business Exchange, who believes company culture is a set of values and how employees are recognised, appreciated and compensated for their contribution is a key part of maintaining a favourable company culture. “The purpose of company culture, certainly within our business, is to align on a common vision and goal that ensures we offer the best service possible.
When culture is understood to be manifested through an alignment on goals, objectives and values, it no longer relies solely on in-person interactions but operates from a far more meaningful foundation. Values don’t keep office hours, and they transition seamlessly into hybrid working models.
Culture plays a big part in your success
Fostering the right company culture has been an important part of SweepSouth’s toolbox in building one of the fastest growing tech startups in the country. “Having a great company culture plays a powerful part in a company’s success,” says SweepSouth CEO and co-founder Aisha Pandor.
“It’s a driving force in how you do business and has a big impact on how you develop strategies. It also creates focus among your staff and engenders a feeling of identity.” SweepSouth launched in 2014, and early on set their company culture to embody specific principles. All staff are expected to follow those, and the company has added adherence to it in their yearly KPAs.
Despite being separated by working from home during the pandemic or sheer geography (the company now operates in Kenya and Nigeria, too) all employees embody the same key values, which include delivering quality work, and being respectful, innovative, flexible and trustworthy.
It’s a well-known fact that culture is set from the top down. Known for her agile style of leadership and willingness to embrace new opportunities, Pandor’s energetic and innovative business spirit is felt at all levels of the company, including the driving of new ideas.
“In such a fast-changing world you need to stay innovative and build better products and services for your customers. We’ve been in business for seven years, but we still view ourselves as a start-up in terms of the hype and energy that a start-up has. We’re constantly evolving and pushing boundaries and having that start-up energy flowing around the company helps to boost innovation. It also keeps your employees enthusiastic about your product or service, which is healthy. When people are excited, they draw customers and potential team members in.”
People make the culture
With a global business comprising 100 000+ team members, culture at Radisson Hotel Group has always played a central role in ensuring its geographically dispersed employees feel involved and positive about their shared values and responsibilities. Part of this includes placing people at the very heart of its culture.
“We have long espoused a brand ethos that prides itself on its culture and people-first approach,” says Tim Cordon, Senior Area Vice President, Middle East & Africa. “It has always been extremely important that we choose integrity, inculcating a genuine culture of ‘every person matters’ from the top down, even more so as the hospitality industry continues to face many challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
To that end, the Group believes in providing meaningful employment, where team members are encouraged to develop their talents, and where human rights, ethics and diversity are promoted throughout its business network and supply chain. Cordon himself began his career at Radisson as a pot washer, honing his skills across various areas of the business over the more than 15 years he’s been with the company before taking the helm of the Middle East & Africa region.
“One of our core cultural beliefs is ‘We are many minds with one mindset’ and that has certainly been true of my own journey,” he says. “No matter where in the business I was working, there was a mutual respect for individual differences, life experiences and diverse world views — all working together to make memorable moments happen.
“I don’t think that’s something that could have been achieved without the Group’s dedication to building teams that reflect the communities they live in.
Ensuring employees realise their potential is a particular focus for open-source software company Liferay. “Part of our mission at Liferay is to build a vibrant business that makes it possible for people to reach their full potential to serve others. As part of our core value ‘Grow and Get Better’ we thrive to be an organisation brave enough to challenge ourselves and our peers to take the leaps of faith needed to grow,” says Matt Poladian, Vice President of People at Liferay.
Liferay’s transition to a remote work environment was supported by a “reach your full potential…from anywhere” approach. This was inspired by the company’s mission of assisting individuals and teams in reaching their full potential. Poladian explains: “For us, it was critical that the pandemic – and the resulting work-from-home adjustment – had no detrimental effect on people’s jobs, and that they could reach their goals regardless of their location.” To facilitate this, Liferay holds biweekly manager training, and has implemented new technology resources to collaborate on goal setting, performance management and communication collaboration.
Culture is pervasive
Company culture is everything. It’s both what you do and don’t do. Culture has a direct impact on everything from productivity to team engagement and your corporate reputation. Company culture is evident in how a company does things, which is underpinned by a keen understanding of why they’re doing it. Those are things that don’t rely on in-person interactions, and even less on the bells and whistles too often believed to drive company culture.
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