Culture is the secret sauce for business

Profile picture for user Sally Sourbron By Sally Sourbron January 6, 2020
Workplace culture that instills a sense of belonging is the secret sauce of business success in today's world, writes ServiceNow's Sally Sourbron

Craft worker in Vietnam prepares soy sauce © BuiPhuKhanh - shutterstock

If we think back not so very long ago — just before the turn of the millennium perhaps — things were very different in the workplace. C-suite boardroom discussions would gravitate around profit and loss, mergers and acquisitions, and product or service development.

If you were fortunate and worked for an organisation with a heightened degree of sensitivity, then you might have been lucky enough to hear your leadership discuss more ground-level issues such as departmental realignment or strategic hires.

But here’s the conversation you probably would never have heard from the CEO in 1999, or indeed further back:

Thanks for the profit and loss statements, good to hear about the expansion in Malaysia… so now let’s move onto our workplace culture and our mission to develop even better diversity, inclusion and belonging practices.

The cultural shift to culture

Things have changed for the better, clearly. Most companies today understand the need for diversity in all its forms, for inclusivity at every level of the organization, and the need to instill a sense of belonging in a workforce.

Equality and diversity are increasingly being demanded as a ‘given’ by a workforce that is being rapidly populated by Generation Z professionals — and it will only continue as Generation Alpha (born from 2013 onwards) follows.

Smart companies realise that combining a strong ‘company culture’ with great employee experiences is crucial to not just employee satisfaction, but also to forming a foundation for corporate growth and success.

But we still have work to do, so let’s first ask ourselves what work culture really means.

Workplace culture as a formative glue

Human cultures bring together beliefs, values, laws, customs and a means of artistic expression. Workplace culture shares some of those same ideals.

An organization’s culture should instill a sense of purpose and value in every individual. That’s why we talk about belonging as a means of allowing everyone to get a personal validation for their role.

Human cultures endure. Many traditions are still celebrated and re-enacted today. This is an important factor because culture has staying power.

The parallel for me here is that a strong workplace culture with inclusivity and belonging at its heart is capable of seeing the organization through tough times, as well as the good.

Organizations that haven’t formed cultural bonds throughout their teams, departments and international connections don’t hold together as firmly as others in times of adversity or change. We call them cultural bonds for a reason — they act as a formative glue that holds the ship together.

Listening to people

Listening and garnering feedback to understand people’s needs is an essential quality of a skilled leader. It’s equally as relevant when we look at developing talent.

Employee voice surveys can be a key part of listening, but they are just one element. Forward thinking, culture-aware organizations are creating culture teams and culture champions to disperse positive cultural DNA throughout the business.

There’s a trust element here — we’re giving people a wide remit to act as they see best within their own area of expertise. Companies need to realize that most people really do want to come to work to work. Those that take advantage of the system will always form a natural part of attrition in workplaces with open cultures.

From my own perspective, when I visit any business I measure success based upon how many smiles I receive when I walk through reception, hallways and perhaps their staff eatery. It’s the grass roots way of knowing whether a company’s leadership gets culture, or is stuck in the grind of yesteryear.

Recent research, commissioned by ServiceNow, notes that work-life balance is the top aspect of job satisfaction for UK workers, cited by 77%. Also, 71% highlighted personal wellbeing and mental health, plus having a positive relationship with others in their company, as being important.

These figures provide us with more than just a flavor of evidence for the wider workplace culture proposition I am putting forward.

Secret sauce for success

Taking stock of everything we have said here, I’d like to point you back to the title of this piece. We said that workplace culture is the secret sauce for business. I firmly believe that this is one of the greatest truisms of modern life.

People want a work-life balance and enjoyable experiences at work. They are demanding equality, fairness and the opportunity to work within a system of meritocracy where rewards are based on effort, not an archaic system of rank.

But most of all, workers today are demanding a workplace culture that is founded on the values centered around diversity, inclusion and belonging.

Get that right and you’ll have found your organization’s secret sauce for success.