Debunking myths and unveiling the truth about corporate culture

Eric Wohl
Eric Wohl
Jul 02 2024
5 min read
Debunking myths and unveiling the truth about corporate culture

As senior executives steering our organizations through constant change, we often hear about “corporate culture.” But building a strong culture isn’t just a buzzword; it’s essential for our success. While we focus on strategy, processes, and technology, how often do we intentionally cultivate our company culture? As a seasoned Chief HR Officer, I encourage you to explore how culture can be a powerful competitive advantage. Let’s start by debunking a few myths together:

Myth #1: Culture is a cost center, not a value driver.

Reality: A strong culture directly correlates with financial performance. The late great Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” While both are crucial, a misaligned culture can undermine even the best strategies. According to the Harvard Business Review, companies with a strong culture see a 4x increase in revenue growth compared to those with weaker cultures. Additionally, Deloitte reports that companies with robust cultures experienced a 60% higher increase in shareholder value over a decade.

Myth #2: Culture is soft and immeasurable.

Reality: Culture can be measured and quantified. Leading organizations go beyond superficial branding efforts to cultivate their unique identity with the same care they dedicate to core products and services. They embed cultural metrics into their business processes, measuring aspects like employee engagement, turnover rates, bench strength, and customer satisfaction. This approach makes culture a tangible driver of business outcomes.

Myth #3: Culture is just an HR initiative that can’t be deliberately defined and managed.

Reality: Culture can be systematically defined, documented, embedded, measured, and managed like other core business imperatives if leaders are united and committed. This process may not be as linear or rapid as a technology project, but it can be managed with clear objectives, tactics, measures, and targets over time. All people leaders must be held accountable for their roles in sustaining the culture, emphasizing the importance of how results are achieved, not just the results themselves.

Take a Close Look at Your Organization

Do you feel like your organization has put in the work and sustains the effort to continually define, embed, measure, understand, own, and role model these tenets throughout the entire employee lifecycle? If not, you’re not alone. However, focusing on culture could be one of the most important strategic and lasting leadership efforts you drive.

Business results to support the effort

Trying to make the business case for investing in culture? Research consistently shows that organizations with well-defined, positive cultures outperform their peers in key financial metrics. From revenue growth to employee well-being, the impact of a robust culture is far-reaching. Let’s explore some compelling data points that highlight how culture drives business success and why it’s worth the effort to cultivate it intentionally.
  • Revenue growth: Companies with a strong culture experience up to 2.5 times higher revenue growth, according to the Great Place to Work Institute. CultureIQ found that organizations with a clearly defined culture see 23% higher revenue growth.
  • Profitability: Bain & Company highlighted that organizations with a positive culture witness a 21% increase in profitability.
  • Innovation: A PwC report states that a culture fostering creativity and risk-taking based on trust leads to a 16% increase in innovation.
  • Employee well-being: Gallup shows that organizations with high levels of employee well-being experience 41% lower absenteeism and 17% higher productivity.

Steps to make your culture a competitive advantage

It’s not enough to have a set of values printed on posters; the real work involves embedding these values into every aspect of your organization. From committing to the belief that culture is as crucial as any business strategy to systematically measuring and celebrating cultural milestones, these steps will guide you in making your culture a true driver of business success. Let’s delve into each step and understand how you can build a culture that stands out and propels your organization forward.
  1. Commit to believe: Recognize that a strong, unique culture is a business imperative with the potential to drive enterprise value as much as great products, services, and execution.
  2. Observe and assess: Carefully observe what your culture is beyond written signs and websites. Study behaviors and rituals across the organization.
  3. Define the gaps: Honestly listen to employees and customers to assess the difference between your desired culture and reality. Create an environment of trust to get the truth.
  4. Redefine and embed: Adjust your culture based on findings. Embed cultural tenets in every aspect of the employee and customer experience.
  5. Measure, measure, measure: Continually assess and improve cultural initiatives using relevant metrics and incorporate them into your business scorecards you visibly review.
  6. Communicate and celebrate: Share the news, both good and bad, and publicly recognize leaders and teams excelling in upholding the culture. You’ll likely see that the same leaders also deliver consistently top-tier business results too.

A parting thought.. and a word of caution

Creating a culture that transcends myths and drives real ROI necessitates intentional efforts, strategic alignment, and continuous measurement. By investing in your organization’s culture, you are not only unlocking a competitive edge but also ensuring sustainable success in today’s dynamic business environment. While competitive pay and robust employee development are essential, they may not be enough– so focusing on your culture may be less expensive and equally impactful. 

One word of caution; your team is watching more closely than you think. CEOs and senior leaders who are humble, committed, communicative, and honest about successes and failures will help convince the masses. This matters. Your teams will be watching closely for the match between words and actions. If there’s a consistent gap, they’ll see it and your employees will make their decision about if they buy in or check out and leave. Remember, culture is not just a buzzword—it’s the heartbeat of your organization, pulsating with the potential to propel your business to new heights. Embrace it, nurture it, and reap the rewards it brings as a sustainable competitive advantage.

This article is part of the Precision Matters series. In the series, HR and L&D leaders share their expert strategies for utilizing Learning & Development tools to craft precise, impactful business outcomes and foster organizational growth.

Eric Wohl
Eric Wohl
Over a 25+ year career, Eric Wohl has held a series of progressively global HR leadership positions at Pepsi-Cola, Andersen/Accenture, Dell, DISH Network, Radial, and National CineMedia. In the last three organizations he was honored to serve as CHRO and is known for bringing a passionate, collaborative, and results-driven style to his work. His passion is helping employees build great careers while developing teams into high-performing organizations. In addition to his work as a CHRO, Eric advises early-stage people tech ventures and provides executive coaching, project leadership, and interim/fractional CHRO support through his consulting firm ([email protected]). He has a BA from The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and his Executive Coaching and Hogan Certification from Northwestern University.

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