Why Culture is King

Staff Writer

If there’s one thing I have learned, it’s that the critical component of high performance is a leadership team that is committed to creating a culture where everyone wants to turns up and perform every day.

Cultivating the right culture for your organisation is largely determined by who you hire, who you fire, by the behaviour you reward and celebrate and by the behaviour you won’t tolerate.

It’s all around us

Every team has a culture, whether accidental or cultivated. Even within a team, different cultures exist. It is important to understand your team’s culture; it is apparent in every action, interaction and conversation that takes place every minute of every day.  That’s the ‘vibe of the place’.

If you’re unsure of the culture within your team, schedule some one-on-one time with the latest recruit.  Ask questions. How do they describe their workplace to family and friends?  Who do they go to for help and advice in the workplace? Who do they already know to avoid?  What are the actions and behaviours that get prioritised and rewarded in the team?

Great cultures make the impossible possible.

I have been very fortunate to work for a broad mix of leaders who have shown the importance of fostering a great culture.  A happy, healthy, productive team with real purpose and direction is able to achieve record results that make the grandest visions a reality.  There will always be drama, blow-ups and frequent long hours, but a team with a strong, positive culture focuses on the work, not the distractions.

Conversely, when a negative culture is allowed to fester it can have a dire impact on an entire company, right down to the bottom line.  Attracting talent becomes impossible, there is no desire for great work and the overriding sense of fear and dread drive blame-based behaviour.  Results inevitably take a dive and the work environment becomes toxic.

Solid foundations

The single most important factor in creating a great culture is to have leaders for whom people want to work.  That is, leaders who genuinely listen before acting, who exemplify team values, are authentic and believe that their role is to nurture future leaders and serve their team.  The right leadership is the foundation upon which all else is built.

Raise your four key pillars

  1. Goals must be clearly articulated, timely, challenging and measurable markers of success.  All should play a role in goal-setting to establish buy-in.
  2. Roles and responsibilities are created with input from the people who are in or rely on those roles, not HR.  In my experience, the most robust discussions revolve around team members determining what they need from one another to perform and achieve goals. This leads to each person understanding their role and better fulfilling their responsibilities.
  3. Values must be clearly-defined so there is no uncertainty about the type of behaviour and ethics expected.  This is a great opportunity to align rewards with values. Team members must have the confidence to act if they see behaviour that breaches your values. It’s also up to leaders to “catch” people doing the right thing and to recruit candidates who fit the culture but also exemplify your ideal values. People who love what they do radiate a contagious energy.  Recruiting hard working, values based contributors will give the whole team a real boost.
  4. A Morale Development Plan is about nurturing and developing the potential of your people. It’s about having initiatives in place to support, acknowledge and reward demonstrated values and achievements.  Start with the agenda and process of the weekly team meeting.  Sales meetings can be a complete waste of time and an energy drain, with people going through figures they already know and listening to another dispiriting ‘new initiative’.  I was as guilty of perpetuating the negative meeting as anyone else, until the penny dropped as I watched the team shuffle out one morning. I rallied the leadership and we seized the opportunity to make real changes. The team meeting became uplifting; a time for everyone to be inspired and learn something they could apply immediately.  We asked for feedback on structuring the meeting.  From that point, these sessions became enthusiastically attended, with great guest speakers, presentations of inspiring work from within the team, sharing of ideas, team debates and a check-in on progress towards our goals.  We cut the duration to 30 – 45 minutes and, when we didn’t need a meeting, we didn’t have one.  The results were so heartening that we applied the same thinking to personal development, weekly work-in-progress meetings and external team gatherings.

I cannot stress enough the importance of prioritising periodical team ‘time-outs’ to recalibrate these pillars when necessary.  And always celebrate the wins; nothing builds momentum like it!

Recently I left a role running a large established sales team to join a digital start-up. There are seven of us at the moment, and more often than not we are working on our own.  Far from thinking that a focus on culture really doesn’t apply here, I’ve realised that it’s more important than ever. Our values and culture are the fuel that will propel us into becoming a viable, commercially-successful company. Our individual contributions to building a unique culture, along with our shared values, are exactly what give me the confidence that our start-up is about to give this industry a big shake-up.

Nick Randall is Commercial Director of Australian podcast platform Whooshkaa.

Whooshkaa is a free platform providing podcasters with sophisticated hosting and ad injection technology, advanced listener analytics and an advertising network connecting companies and brands with podcasters. 

Nick was previously National Sales Director at Macquarie Media, where he played a key role in the Fairfax Radio Network merger. He was also Sydney Sales Director and National Sales Operations Manager at Southern Cross Austereo.

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