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Perceptions · 1 November '18

How to build a company culture that will attract talent

A good company culture is instrumental for any business. Think of it as the DNA of your organisation: entirely unique to each company and the very foundations upon which you build your dream. Most importantly, it’s the key ingredient for hiring the very best talent and creating the right conditions for them to succeed.

I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “right” or “wrong” culture.  We can often be too quick to judge based on our own values and preference. All organisations are different. Culture is a strategic business tool just like anything else and should be used to drive results. With that in mind, we should all aim to create a culture that is effective within our own context, rather than what seems to work for someone else.

At CharlieHR, our mission is to enable small companies to build great places to work, so we think about how to achieve that for ourselves (and our customers) a lot. We obsess over developing an effective, high-performance culture, and here are a few of our learnings:

Focus on behaviours over values

Conversations around culture always seem to centre around “values”. Companies spend hours defining value statements and sticking them up on the wall, but values mean very little unless they clearly articulate how team members can live them out.  A value might be “brave”, but a behaviour might explain “if you have the conviction that an idea is good, you make it happen, no need for approval from anyone”. The latter is far more descriptive of the organisation you really are and is hugely inspiring for the right time of the employee.

Your culture should not appeal to everyone

While we mustn’t undermine the importance of diversity in any team – a variety of backgrounds and world experiences is vital – effective cultures shouldn’t aim to appeal to everyone. While there are many common needs and desires we share, we are all different human beings who respond to different things in different ways. Don’t be afraid to be bold and stay true to what feels right. You can’t stand for something and be everyone’s best mate.

Founders set the tone

It’s the founders’ responsibility to embody the culture of the organisation. It has to be authentic to them and they need to be the standout examples of those behaviours. In any successful company, founders don’t just have the idea and hold the vision, they set the tone of how the company gets there. It never works to try and build a culture around an ideal that a founder can’t get on board with.

Involve your best-performing team members

What do they care about? What do they value about working in your company? What do they love and what would they improve? You want more people like them, so you should listen to their feedback and invite them to take an active role in defining and developing your culture.

Culture doesn’t scale easily

It’s a common complaint. “Things aren’t how they used to be”. Companies grow up and they change, just as we do as people. It is impossible for a 20 person company to have the same culture as a 250 person company. The skill is to continue to evolve your culture alongside the needs of your organisation, and that takes a deep investment of time and incredibly hard work.  It’s OK for the culture to change, but that doesn’t mean it needs to become less effective as a tool nor lose some of the core of what made it a special place to be.

I truly believe that the only things companies must do to succeed are to hire the very best people and give them the space to do their very best work. Both of these things rely on defining, developing and iterating culture over time. None of this is easy, but if you thought building a successful company was going to be easy then you’re in the wrong game!