2015 / 22 July

Can culture kill an idea?

Throughout my career, I have been lucky enough to be exposed to a wide variety of clients, across industry, size and maturity. I have been able to learn more about what creates successful businesses and what employees look for when they seek out work through direct experience and by osmosis, for which I do not claim any credit.

While there is no silver bullet to guarantee success, common themes certainly appear. When we create brand strategies for clients, big and small, the same questions come up: who is going to lead the implementation? Who is going to champion the new strategy? Who is going to be our brand ambassadors? When we make recommendations for innovation or new ideas, a similar line of questioning comes out: how far are clients willing to push the boundaries of their business? How easy is it to implement change and what’s the appetite for strategic risk?

Ultimately, what it comes down to is the culture within a business. Whether it is the people or the idea, the businesses that flourish understand the common objectives or mission, feel alignment with the brand values and are supportive of one another in order for all to succeed in whatever way possible. There is the general sense that the sum is greater than the parts, and instilling that mindset can be incredibly powerful.

Over the last two decades, the workplace in general has seen some dramatic shifts. Jobs based in production or assembly lines are making way for more ideas-based initiatives. The sarcastic observer has noted that students go to University to find the idea that means they never have to work again. The grain of truth in that is to say that ideas are everywhere now and we have more means than ever to make them a reality. They are the new currency and are evolving at an impossibly fast rate. The result is a skills vacuum and certain roles are in much higher demand than supply.

With that in mind, what makes an in-demand employee stick around? If something is a good idea, what’s to say something else won’t be great tomorrow? In an environment where three years is viewed as the new tenure, what’s to stop people from constantly shifting to find the best opportunity?

Listen to any conversation about a new job. Almost always, the first or second question is about what it’s like to work there. What’s the culture like, what professional development is offered, what are the people like? Ideas come and go, but culture can be instilled forever and if you get that right, you get a loyal, hardworking and happy group of employees.

This understanding is why companies like Culture Amp are succeeding, and why people like Andre, the Co-CEO of award winning start up Vinomofo will make particular mention of getting the culture right through rapid expansion. It’s why I’ve seen mediocre companies excel and why I’ve watched some of the best ideas die, as they succumb to egomaniacs and staff members bullying and physically threatening one another. Some organisations certainly rise above this and even their churn-and-burn reputation is not enough to bring them down, but they are in the shrinking minority.

The ideas economy is also a quite small knit community. People talk, and a workplace with a reputation for poor culture and no development prospects will quickly start to turn away the best candidates. And in the world where ideas are constantly jostling for first place, often only the best candidates are the ones that can make it a reality.

The above is a fairly idealistic view of the world — hire the right people and the rest shall follow — but the intention is important. The ideas that change the world aren’t built in a 9 – 5 environment by people who simply clock in and clock out. They’re built by people who believe in what they’re doing, enjoy the challenges ahead of them and are friends with the people around them. Because that environment becomes self-fulfilling and eventually sees the greatest results. Otherwise if you instill the wrong culture, even the best idea will end up on the scrapheap.

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