What's your culture? 5 steps to building a positive work culture.

In the 90’s comedy movie, Office Space, it satirizes the everyday work life of a software company, and the lives of a cross section of its employees who are fed up with their work. Corporate drone Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) hates his soul-killing job at software company Initech. While undergoing hypnotherapy, Peter is left in a blissful state when his therapist dies in the middle of their session. He refuses to work overtime, plays games at his desk and unintentionally charms two consultants into putting him on the management fast-track. When Peter's friends learn they're about to be downsized, they hatch a revenge plot against the company inspired by "Superman III."(Science on Screen). At the core of the movie is a toxic culture that stems from callous management, that seeks to just have results at the detriment of the development of workers.


Let’s rethink the way we define culture. So, for the pure case of business lingua, culture is the way things are done in your business or organisation. It is necessary that every business has standardised operational procedure, business processes and guidelines that are in conformity with the business culture. By building a thriving culture, you reap benefits like attracting top talent, improving business performance, increasing the optimism of employees and consequently setting yourself apart in the marketplace. However, even the benefits are glaringly obvious, most companies deny the need to create a thriving culture. Theranos was a privately held health technology corporation, initially touted as a breakthrough technology company, but subsequently infamous for its false claims to have devised blood tests that only needed very small amounts of blood. The result of the fall of Theranos was largely because of a dysfunctional culture, one that was riddled with fear and intimidation. On the other hand, businesses like Starbucks have expanded and increased business performance by deliberately creating a workplace culture built on diversity, inclusion and a place where all belong. The differences between these two are very evident.


For many startups and small businesses, there is often a misconception and a falsehood that little details like human resources, administration and following rules do not apply. For many, it makes much more sense to focus on a lofty mission and how to make profit than to create a sound culture that permeates all business processes. In the words of Kip Tendell, “Culture actually drives the value of the business”.  As we grow, the business has no longer revolved only around us as founders, but all team members are eventually helping form the culture Workshed stands for, and this must be consistent with our brand. For culture change can’t be achieved through top-down mandate. It lives in the collective hearts and habits of people and their shared perception of “how things are done around here.” Someone with authority can demand compliance, but they can’t dictate optimism, trust, conviction, or creativity (Walker et al, 2017).


Small businesses and startups can start building the culture they want to see by doing some of these things:


·       Articulating the core purpose, vision and mission of the business: As founders, crafting the strategy and intent of what the business stands for is critical, but shouldn’t be devoid of employees. Every team member and intern should critique and be a part of setting up of these integral ethos documents of any business. For many businesses, these beliefs are generally assumed or crafted without any involvement, yet founders believe they should see the right attitude. If you don’t craft with them, you’ll lack from them.

·       Communicate clearly: In a dysfunctional culture where no information is provided to the staff, gossip and rumours rush in to fill the void. Leaders aren’t obliged to share confidential details, but they should never be dishonest in what they do reveal. Inaccurate or evasive communications generate distrust among employees. When trust is lost, it’s very difficult to regain.

·       When people understand what’s expected of them and are given the information to fulfil those expectations, they feel they’re part of the bigger picture. This gives a sense of ownership in the process, which helps develop more of a loyalty and dedication. Helping employees feel this way is done through regular meetings and/or question-and-answer sessions, where employees have the freedom to ask potentially difficult questions without fearing negative consequences. Communication about company objectives, performance, and new initiatives enables the workforce to perform at a higher level.

·       Forming the right team: Having the right people in the company will generate a vibrant, productive culture. Always seeking candidates who best reflect your values and beliefs are best.  Netflix for example has a process of sending its culture deck to applicants to find out from them later on in the application process if they are things they can comply with. Interview processes should seek to involve not only qualitative and quantitative responses, but also seek skills of initiative and being entrepreneurial.

·       Rewards for following standard procedures and punishments for not following through. This is often a hard pill to swallow for most small businesses and startups, but if such outcomes are not established in the early stages there will be little or no adherence to the generally accepted guidelines the business has set.


For organisations seeking to become more adaptive and innovative, culture change is often the most challenging part of the transformation. Innovation demands new behaviours from leaders and employees that are often antithetical to corporate cultures, which are historically focused on operational excellence and efficiency.