05 Oct Culture’s Impact on Business: A Reflection on Our Findings
Over the past few months, we’ve discussed what a strong company culture looks like and how it can impact a business. Culture is all about caring for the human side of business, whether you’re back in the office or communicating with coworkers and clients over video calls. In our most recent blog post, Maura Lightfoot talked about the importance of empathy in a work environment. In that post, Maura shared that empathy means being aware of the different needs and perspectives of the people around you. It means establishing an environment that fosters open communication and embraces dialogue that challenges our assumptions. It means being curious about your clients and coworkers and responsive to their points of view. Empathy is about embracing every member of your team on an individual level. And, we firmly believe that when cultivating a strong company culture, everything comes back to empathy.
In July we began our series on Culture’s Impact on Business with a discussion of Leesa’s decision to adapt to the current coronavirus crisis by flattening their hierarchy and pivoting to produce much needed hospital beds to aid those suffering from the pandemic. Their success was rooted in empathy. Instead of remaining rooted in the way they’ve always done business, Leesa worked to elevate lesser-heard voices within the company while changing their business plan to serve the people who needed it most. The creativity, care, and proactivity described in that first article is a perfect example of empathy’s positive impact on a company’s culture.
The companies that displayed a thriving or encouraging culture were based in open communication, care for the people they serve, and a willingness to adapt to the needs of their environment.
Later on, we talked about GameStop and Anthropologie: two companies who failed to practice empathy. GameStop failed to listen to their employees’ concerns about unrealistic corporate standards and later they failed to listen to concerns about the lack of safety precautions being taken during the pandemic. GameStop’s failure was a failure of empathy, and an outright disregard for the safety precautions to ensure the wellbeing of their staff during the deadly pandemic. They didn’t listen to the needs of their employees and stayed rooted in preexisting ways of operating, despite pleas for change. Anthropologie’s case was not much different. Despite complaints from customers and employees about discrimination and pay inequality at the company’s stores, Anthropologie refused to take any meaningful steps to address these issues. As in the case of GameStop, Anthropologie’s failures were marked by inflexibility and a refusal to listen to the needs of the people they claim to serve.
The companies that did not prove to be good examples of strong culture were inflexible and unwilling to listen to their customers or employees, and they have suffered a backlash on their reputation.
Finally, we looked at AirBnB’s efforts to combat racial discrimination on their platform. After customers everywhere brought the instances of racial discrimination to AirBnB’s attention, the company partnered with various civil rights organizations to work to create a better system that eliminates discriminatory practices. They committed to rectifying an injustice and are doing so by communicating with qualified organizations who can offer expertise and new perspectives. They’ve committed to listen, established an open dialogue, and are challenging their preexisting assumptions and practices. By doing so, they have set an example of how a company can practice empathy in an effort to change their culture.
In every case we’ve explored, a culture’s success or failure has come down to empathy. Everything begins there. The companies that displayed a thriving or encouraging culture were based in open communication, care for the people they serve, and a willingness to adapt to the needs of their environment. The companies that did not prove to be good examples of strong culture were inflexible and unwilling to listen to their customers or employees, and they have suffered a backlash on their reputation. When working to build a strong company culture, ask yourself:
> Am I grounding everything I do in empathy?
> Am I prioritizing creating a safe space for all voices to be heard?
> Am I taking the time to listen to those around me?
> Is this an environment that encourages open dialogue and creativity?
> Does the wellbeing and success of the people come before profits?
If you find yourself answering no to any of these questions, it won’t be long until your organization begins to suffer the consequences.
Shaara Roman is founder and managing director of The Silverene Group, a culture consultancy that helps companies align their people programs with business goals.