Corporate culture is nebulous—different for each company and sometimes hard to develop, especially in the shifting sands of the business world. But the companies that get it right, the companies that not only champion culture but truly cultivate it, and demand the same of their employees, are the ones that stand out and thrive.
Take Southwest Airlines, for example, with an uncompromising focus on its three Ps of culture: Performance, People, Planet. The company’s determination to drive every decision, every sale, and every interaction based on its distinctly defined culture has made the airline a leader in its industry, far surpassing its competitors in consumer satisfaction.
Many companies should take a page from SWA’s book. “Someone leading a business today…needs to focus not just on nuts and bolts, techniques and standards, but on culture,” notes Micah Solomon of The Washington Post. He adds, “Without a consciously created culture, your leadership won’t last beyond the moment you leave the building.”
The benefits of having a solid culture are numerous. Increased employee engagement, which leads to better teamwork and collaboration as well as increased loyalty. And to boot, the opportunity for better financial performance, both in profits and, by turn, in growth of shares. Says Solomon, “Business realities are continually changing, and only a strong culture is going to help you respond to, capitalize on and drive forward these changes in order to serve customers and show your business in the best light.”
Some believe that, when companies do it right, it’s about supporting a blend of external (personal) and internal (work) life. Arguably, Zapposis one of the most well-known examples of “doing it right.” The company’s theory: “to make customers happy, we have to make sure our employees are happy first.” This underlying ideal manifests in many ways, not the least of which is an on-site life coach, with whom employees can set both personal and professional goals—so they can “discover themselves and their higher purpose.” Which goes to show that, when thinking of their culture, companies should be mindful of how strength of culture comes from not just within the walls but outside as well.
Some companies find external cultural growth through employee community service, with the idea that, when an employee is a pillar of a community, the company is represented that way as well. For example, every year, Balihoo, a Boise-based company (voted best place to work in Idaho in 2014) that creates automated marketing software, gives each employee five paid days to participate in volunteer activities. It’s “an external-facing concept,” CEO Pete Gombert says in an interview. “But we’re very much interested in…the company enriching the lives of others, and I think that allows our culture to really stand out.”
Using a different approach to building corporate culture, TEKsystems, a national IT consulting firm, hosts a quarterly off-site outing for employees—events have included bowling, cooking classes, and a tailgate party. The company sees the outings as a way to create stronger coworker bonds. “Our culture is built on relationships,” notes Faith Johnson, VP of human resources. “We know that strong teams aren’t built just at work alone.” Which is an important component for all companies to remember. It’s particularly important for larger ones, because, after all, the larger the corporation, the harder it is for employees to truly know who they work with, which can impair collaboration and productivity.
Extending corporate culture outside the walls can be all about fun—a catered lunch on the first nice day of spring, regular happy hour events that are all about socializing, or even just an annual year-end let-it-loose holiday party. After all, work is stressful enough—when a company can offer its workers an opportunity to hang out and get to know one another outside the office, it is one step closer to happier and more engaged staff.