What goes on inside the walls of a company may be the greatest factor in determining success or failure, according to two Colorado Springs business consultants.
“Culture is so important,” said Steve Drury, owner of The Alternative Board. “It can make or break a company. One factor is how you create it, another is how you sustain it. What we find from great leaders is that every interaction either creates, builds or destroys a culture.”
The culture of a company is typically forged by the founder or the owner, Drury said.
“But sometimes it’s a groundswell from the people in lower positions who shift the culture,” he said. “They can cause a founder to reassess.”
Matt Barrett, co-owner of Business Truths Consulting, said the creation of a certain culture must be calculated.
“You have to define what you want the culture to be,” Barrett said. “It must be intentional. The owner decides if they’re going to be buttoned-up or they’re going to be loosey-goosey. Or maybe they’re going to be more collaborative, bring everybody together and white board it out and get everybody’s opinion in a survey. That’s what you’d see in a more corporate setting. Survey all 500 employees about what they want the culture to be, then an inner core of people boil that down and come up with a statement.”
Changing the culture in a business is easy, said both Barrett and Drury, if the company has only a few employees. But it’s not so simple for a big business.
“It takes a long time to turn a big ship,” Barrett said. “You can’t just measure and say this is where we want to be and let’s get there by next Thursday. You have to ask, incrementally where do we want to be two months from next Thursday and six months from next Thursday? And what are the baby steps in between?”
Don’t expect to alter the behavior and attitudes of 25 employees in a week, Drury cautioned.
“A larger company is like a larger ship and it’s impossible to be agile enough to turn rapidly, even if there is great intention,” Drury said. “But without intention, it’ll never shift.
“There will always be a culture, or an internal brand. If it’s not the culture that we really want, it takes a lot of work to really shift that. A startup company is much more agile.”
When companies merge, it can create a cultural divide if two different philosophies are at odds.
Drury told the tale of a big company that did its financial and legal due diligence before purchasing another company.
“But they didn’t spend as much time and money on cultural due diligence as I would’ve recommended,” he said. “Because one culture didn’t align with the other culture, all the top leaders left. Some of them left at the cost of getting their full exit package because they couldn’t stand the new culture. I was called in after the fact to work with them. Point is: A lot of experts aren’t spending enough time and effort on the cultural alignment. If the culture isn’t aligned, don’t do the merger.”
Editor’s note: For a more in-depth story about business culture, read the Aug. 4 edition of the Business Journal.