How Does a Board Influence Business Culture?
If there is one thing many business owners learned to recognise with the rise of the Millenials and the subsequent wave of Gen Z is that business culture counts. Most of the time it’s left to the HR team to build and manage this aspect of the business. Because workplace culture is often considered ‘fluff’. Do board directors have any responsibility in building business culture? And if so, how does a board influence the culture of a workplace?
As management leader Peter Drucker famously said in 2006, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In saying this he by no means inferred that strategy is low on the totem pole of priorities for any company. But he implied that having a strong workplace culture and having your employees aligned can power the sails of your business. You have a far more advantageous overall impact on your future success and growth.
As a business owner, if you consider culture ‘fluff’ and more of an afterthought you should reconsider. And if you don’t think culture starts at the top, which includes your directors, you should also think again.
What Exactly is Business Culture?
Culture by definition is a system of shared beliefs, attitudes, behaviours and values that evolve naturally over time. It shapes the way people work together and how work gets done in an organisation.
It determines what is accepted, not accepted, and encouraged or discouraged in an environment.
Culture exists whether you planned to have one or not. To be clear, it’s a fallacy that you have to set out to have a workplace culture. Because whether you like it or not a culture begins in any business just by the very nature of it being there.
The key is knowing what you want your business culture to look like. By acquiring talent that aligns with it, and reinforcing those cultural touchpoints so that it becomes second nature. Consider it the tailwind that pushes you to your destination ahead of schedule. When employees feel aligned, work with a shared purpose, and feel that everyone is on the same wavelength so to speak it accelerates the synergy needed for success.
So Who’s In Charge of This Culture?
As we mentioned earlier, more often than not this is considered an HR thing. Sometimes dumbed down to breakout areas, little lunchtime perks, and birthday celebrations culture is more than that. Those things alone won’t motivate and inspire your staff to stick around if the rest of your workplace culture is negative or toxic.
Most of us can relate to being in a scenario where those perceived pluses were in place. And yet the desire to leave was compelling. There may have been after-work drinks, birthdays, and the odd free lunch. But it didn’t balance out that the business owner was out of touch with the tense environment. Or perhaps lack of training or accountability, and zero cohesion between colleagues.
If you want a business that engages with its employees and builds ‘adhesion’ — that magical facet that makes an employee want to thrive and progress with the company long-term — establishing a Grade-A culture that evolves and is nurtured is essential.
How Does a Board Influence Culture?
Since many directors can often be on more than one board, it’s about engaging at the roots of the business. Hands-on, in-person engagement with employees certainly helps. It enables them to see a truer picture of what’s happening below the senior management levels. It’s also important that employees who aren’t involved at higher levels in the company feel involved, and noticed. Integral cogs in the wheel that make that company go around.
Likewise, because board directors often have their toes dipped into more than one business pool they will see various degrees of cultural success and failures. They will see those flourishing and those slowly sinking.
Driving culture in the desired direction takes effort and planning. Too often culture plans are reactionary measures when something undesirable occurs. Or when things reach a boiling point after simmering away unnoticed for too long.
Directors should utilise key metrics that monitor culture which assists in spotting trends and identifies culture change opportunities. Measures and reporting such as employee engagement, employee satisfaction, employee retention rates, diversity, and reporting of company code of conduct violations. And anonymous HR complaints on incidents such as harassment or bullying are suggested in an article by Boardmember.com.
What Should Directors Consider?
Creating a process that keeps your business culture evolving can make your company one that employees are banging down the door to be a part of. In this day and age, a company that inspires and rewards employees will attract the best talent and retain it. They become brand ambassadors and increase your reputation. What’s not to love about that?
Ensuring that you are hiring in the right cultural vein and that new recruits will support the core values of the company is a valuable focus.
Leading by example is essential. If you care about culture, ask about it at the start of a senior meeting. “What is our culture like today?” If you care about it and want answers on the current status within the business it makes it apparent others should be too.
Put culture on the agenda for board meetings and discuss those metrics! And never forget that champions of cultural leadership need succession planning too.
Ultimately it’s a shared responsibility. Culture evolves and shapes according to those actively involved.
Nurture it and make it a priority in your business. It means the difference between great success and a prosperous future. Or it tanks without a trace when a toxic culture proliferates.
Culture involves everyone. Not merely a task delegated to HR to organise the birthday lunch or staff outing without another thought. The board of directors should prioritise it and help ensure resources are sufficient.
It all starts at the top.