Culture: learning from what the 'best companies do differently'

    Whether you aspire to be listed in the times top 100 companies to work for, or simply be an employer of choice, understanding what makes a great company culture will be important to you. In this month’s culture blog, we are sharing some research on companies rated as being amongst the best to work for in the United States and providing examples of what you could experiment with to achieve this in your own organisation.

    The research:

    Over the last three years, two academics in the United States set out to find the answer to what makes a great company culture. Their research centred around companies that consistently featured on one or more of the ‘best companies to work for lists’ in reputable business publications, such as Forbes or Inc., between 2014 and 2018. They selected companies in the private and public sector, which varied in sizes from 250 to over 7000 and across industries such as technology, financial services, consumer products, publishing and pharmaceuticals. All the companies that were willing to participate had to agree to letting the researchers having access to interview executives, human resources teams, hosting focus groups with employees and touring facilities.  

    The aim of this work was to identify and extract common principles about why, what they do is so successful.

    The five common principles:

    As you might expect, the research didn’t come up with a specific formula that every organisation could apply, this is due to idiosyncrasies and nuances of how they motivated their people. What they did find was five themes which are the common principles we can learn from and experiment applying in our own organisations.

    Principle Tips and resources for creating this

    1. Put people first:

    The founders and CEO’s of the best places to work build their companies with people in mind. They think that a healthy culture is just as important as a healthy balance sheet. They provide people with life satisfaction as opposed to job satisfaction. This means going beyond the minimum wages and treating their people as human beings not resources.

    Creating life satisfaction:

    • Offer your people a range of life satisfaction benefits
    • Provide stress reduction workshops
    • Nutritional consultations
    • Financial planning
    • Counselling services

    2. Help workers find and pursue their passions:

    The best companies to work for help their people recognise the area of work that gives them the greatest fulfilment. Why? It can increase productivity and it makes people feel happy.

    How companies do this varies but awareness is key to this as well as identifying opportunities to do the work they enjoy doing.

    Identifying the work a person enjoys can come from a simple conversation about the type of work someone enjoys doing, how it makes them feel and what opportunities in their role exist to practice this regularly. For those who struggle to answer or discuss this, strengths-based psychometrics can help, Clifton strength finders 2.0 or the Red Bull Wingfinder. The latter is free and available here.

    3. Bring people together on a personal level:

    The companies interviewed recognise that their organisations effectiveness relies upon goodwill and solidarity groups. For that reason, they put a lot of effort into bringing people together and do it on a personal level. They mirror everyday human behaviour by celebrating and sympathising to show regard to other people’s feelings. Like good families, good organisations celebrate when big things happen, lighten each other’s load and console those we care about.

    Organisations, as well as their people, have significant events in their lifetime. Whether it’s a marriage, merger or acquisition, birthday, engagement, new clients, promotions, achievement, personal bereavement, or the loss  of a colleague, these and many more create opportunities to get together and connect on a personal level.

    At Nucleus we recognise the need for connection, and we do this digitally and in person. Our Slack channels allow us to recognise achievements where we let everyone know about progression or shout out Kudos. We have 4.44 gatherings every second Friday where we welcome new people, say goodbye to anyone leaving and hear from others about what’s happening in the business. We also like to celebrate our company’s birthday and what new people joining value is the ‘surprise and delight’, where they might receive a surprise gift from something they are really passionate about.

    4. Empower people to own their work:

    A common characteristic of people in the best companies to work for is thinking like an owner. Executives want this and recognise that people need to be given the space to control aspects of their work which means giving leeway to rearrange, modify and improve their assignments. Accepting that mistakes will happen and these are opportunities to learn is a lesson these companies and their managers have learnt and now embrace.

    Empowering people is often easier said than done as it involves putting trust in others and for some people leaders it means adjusting your preferred way of working. This guide from Google on how to empower teams, contains tips on how to do it.

    At Nucleus, one of our leadership strengths is providing autonomy to our people, which means getting out of their way so they can do their best work. We also recognise that for people to feel truly empowered we need to be clear with them of what is expected of them and if boundaries exist, what they are. We also learn from mistakes and see this as part of our performance development.

    5. Create a space where they can be themselves:

    The people interviewed at the companies all said they had found an organisation to work for where they can be themselves. Their true ‘authentic’ self. Why do these companies want to do this? Because being authentic is life affirming, it’s an outward expression of who we are and what we stand for. Less obviously those people who are true to their values tend to have stricter work ethics, more morally engaged and chose principle over enticement.

    Having core values that encourage people to be authentic and helping to bring them to life through daily practices and policies can help create the conditions where people can be their authentic self-e.g. No dress code as policy and/or honesty so that people can express themselves physically and verbally.

    At Nucleus, authentic is one of our core values. We recognise the need for diversity and encourage it through our practices, like no dress code. We also recognise the need for inclusion and proactively work with people leaders to create psychologically safe spaces that allow everyone to speak up. Here is an article from Harvard Business Review on how to create psychologically safe spaces for high team performance.