Company Culture: What it (Really) Is and Why it Matters in Marketing

Creating a culture is hard to do. But killing it is shockingly easy. That’s what Dharmesh Shah, HubSpot CTO and co-founder, told a room of more than 300 people at Go Inbound Marketing 2014 in Indianapolis, IN.

Shah and some of the other presenters had a lot to say about culture, what it means and how it’s an integral part of the success – or failure – of your business. Shah said that the top predictor of success for any marketing team “is absolutely the people.” And a healthy culture is what attracts and retains the best talent.

Defining culture

Shah has spent a lot of time thinking about and developing HubSpot’s culture, as evident from the company’s Culture Code slide deck. The 127-slide “part manifesto and part employee handbook” has been viewed more than 1.3 million times, which suggests other people are thinking a lot about culture, too.

So what is culture? Is it a ping-pong table, an office keg or a relaxed dress code? Those perks may be part of your culture, but they don’t define it.

Dan Fahrner, director of web marketing services for SmallBox, said culture is a combination of a company’s core values, organizational health, and employee experience. Employee experience includes the ping-pong tables and other perks that many people mistake for culture. But core values and organizational health are the underpinnings of a thriving culture.

Employees need to know what values their company embraces (at SmallBox, Fahrner said, those values are persistence, curiosity, collaboration, and courage). Organizational health includes attributes such as cohesive leadership, organizational clarity, and human resources systems that support organizational clarity and the company’s values.

And this is one of the main reasons culture matters: Happy employees can be your best brand ambassadors.

“Your customers and your employees have control of your brand, so why not empower them with your culture?” Fahrner said.

Building happiness

Shah said employees value transparency and access to information. That’s why HubSpot gives its employees access to a wealth of company information, via an exhaustive internal Wiki. Making that information accessible for employees – even if they never read it – supports clarity and organizational health.

Fahrner pointed out that employees also want ownership of their cultural institutions, and it’s easy to provide them that opportunity. For example, managers can step aside to let employees lead their own meetings

If you have a company blog, let everyone have a voice by encouraging all employees to contribute. And if some employees are uncomfortable writing for an audience, Fahrner said co-authorship – which partners reluctant bloggers with peer collaborators – may help people get started.

Resolving conflict

Clarity, communication and team alignment can help dispel the kind of workplace angst that undermines culture and drives away good talent. Particularly in a business with both a marketing and sales team, a lack of understanding and communication can hinder a company’s growth.

Brian Kavicky, vice president of Lushin, a company that helps businesses strengthen sales efforts, spoke to the Go Inbound crowd about the common disconnect between marketing and sales departments. Often, he said, sales teams complain that marketing isn’t providing enough leads or the right kind of leads. Marketing teams may complain that sales isn’t following up quickly enough on leads. Kavicky said these two departments should work together, with marketing sitting in on the first sales call to any prospect. Early collaboration can help ensure messaging is aligned across sales and marketing teams.

Defining a vision

If you haven’t thought much about what culture really means, a good place to start is to ask employees if they’re happy, and why. Mel Kleiman, writing for Ragan.com, pointed out that companies should conduct retention interviews, rather than wait until an exit interview to find out why employees are leaving.

Culture is the reason your employees come to work every day. It’s the values they share, the company’s clear and collective vision and how people interact. Focus on creating a great culture, and you can attract and retain the best talent.

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