21. December 2020

Company Culture: The Basis of (not only) Employee & Customer Experience

What exactly is the company culture (corporate, organizational)? Everyone knows this a little bit, few people fully understand it and almost no one can explain it in such a way that it is clear to everyone or manage it, that it serves as a source of competitive advantage (similar to the companies I mention in this blog).


What is Company Culture

The current business world is becoming increasingly dynamic, more complex and more competitive. Probably the most visible in our country, in the technology sector. However, it is not just technology companies that need to pay close attention to the values and attitudes that determine how they perceive, think and act, and how they respond to their constantly and rapidly changing environment. Oops, did you notice?

It was here that I wrote a kind of academic definition of corporate culture, and I forgot to note at the beginning that despite the fact that I have been researching this issue in the academic environment for fifteen years, I will try to write “human” language. So to fix it – corporate culture can be defined as the way the company thinks, the corporate mentality, what we consider (or do not consider) to be right.

However, the definition I gave at the beginning explains practically the fundamental, strategic importance of this topic, because it actually claims that culture is responsible for what and how happens in organizations in virtually every area of their activity.

Leadership, Culture & Customer Experience

I understand that even the above explanations may not lead to an understanding of why corporate culture is fundamental to the success of any single company. Yes – the first condition for understanding this is to know that EVERY company has a culture, regardless of whether its managers know what it is or whether they pay due attention to it.

However, it is the leaders of companies – founders and top managers – who should be the best oriented on this issue. This is because, despite the fact that the company’s culture is shaped by many things (for example, the industry or the country in which it operates, size but also, for example, whether it is based in a smaller or larger city), the most important are values, attitudes or vision of the most influential people in the company. They have the best opportunity to “infect” the rest of the organization.

What can it look like in practice? This blog focuses on the customer experience. So let’s give a few examples of the attitudes of the leaders of the world’s most successful companies on this issue.

  • “The salary is not paid by the employer. Employers just spend the money. It’s the paying customer. ”Henry Ford
  • “You have to start working with the customer experience and then work with the technology, not the other way around.” Steve Jobs
  • “Let’s look at our customers as invited guests to a party where we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little better. ”Jeff Bezos
  • “I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop where you’re constantly thinking about what else to do and how to do it better.” Elon Musk
  • “Your unhappiest customers are your source of learning.” Bill Gates

Values Control Behavior (or “Walk the Talk”)

In my research of company culture, especially in smaller companies, I found that many key people lack basic awareness of this issue and its importance or that they perceive culture best through some less important “external” manifestations (such as how to dress or modify company materials). / spaces, at most value proclamations somewhere on the wall of the entrance hall, which, however, were far from being trusted by all employees, or to be reflected in the daily behavior of the organization).

And this is the most important thing – the mentioned attitudes of corporate leaders over time become the values of companies and the most important are those that we can observe from their actual actions (of course, if it is in line with those “carved” values, then the mentioned corporate posters, like various company stories, ceremonies, and other social events, really serve as a tool for spreading and consolidating culture throughout the company). And it is also extremely important that these values are truly victorious – those that serve as a source of success and competitiveness (it can be the other way around).
Company Culture: The Basis of (not only) Employee & Customer Experience 1

The Experience Matters (even the employee)

The name of the blog indicates that in addition to the customer, it will also address the employee experience. Again, anyone who has a little understanding of this area must also agree that without a positive employee experience, we can hardly talk about building a customer experience. That is why many cultures of modern and successful companies focus mainly on their people.

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Hewlett Packard is an example of such a company that has made it into management textbooks. Their principles can easily be described as a generally recommended set of values and behaviors that every company should be inspired by:

  • Job security,
  • More power for employees,
  • Generous performance pay,
  • Less emphasis on status and,
  • Building trust.

Researchers at Stanford University have called this approach the principles of people orientation. Their research in American and German companies has shown that the application of these principles has led to higher profitability and lower fluctuations.
Company Culture: The Basis of (not only) Employee & Customer Experience 2
I will give other examples. Apple’s corporate culture is and has always been based on the ideal that motivated individuals to work better if they don’t have a boss who “micro-manages” everything. There is almost no organizational structure in the company, which gives people the maximum freedom to cooperate and decide on their own work.

This is sometimes a bit confusing, but the result is an environment for creating things that “customers can’t get enough of.” There aren’t many strictly defined processes in the company, but there are two leading management and coordination processes – weekly meetings (“every Monday we take over our entire business, we look at every product in development.” Steve Jobs) setting the heartbeat of the whole company and uncompromising individual responsibility.

And we can name more and more, notoriously well-known companies, for which a unique culture based on “winning” values has become the basis not only of an excellent employee and customer experience but it can be said that their entire extraordinary success.

For example, Google, which personally, in addition to the well-known things, also sympathizes with my aversion to bureaucracy. Or BMW, which, atypically for the German corporate world, blurs the barriers between management and employees, which is reflected in the open design of workspaces, but especially in the increased commitment of everyone in the company and extraordinary innovation.

In addition, a flexible approach to customers is an important value for BMW (did you know that an identical vehicle only leaves their production lines once every nine months?). Interestingly, some key principles are very similar in these super-successful companies, such as BMW or Musk’s companies (Tesla, SpaceX) – when recruiting new people, they do not primarily focus on their expertise, but on their approach/views and thus how they fit into corporate culture (I quote in the original): “A super hardcore work ethic, a talent for building things, common sense & trustworthiness are required, the rest we can train.” Elon Musk.

Recently, Netflix has become a highly cited company for its unique corporate culture. “Many companies have defined values,” the Netflix Culture Manifesto begins, “but these written values are vague or ignored.” Those true values are expressed by how much people value themselves in the company. They are the ones who say what they think if it is in the best interest of the company, even if it may not be pleasant. Those who are willing to be critical of the status quo.

And I can’t help but mention that we already have our little Slovak “Google” – in its industry – the computer leader of global security Eset. The basis of his philosophy is responsibility, reliability, justice, and innovation. Great emphasis is placed on talented and motivated people – and the company considers them the basis of its success. Teambuilding events, training, health, pension, and social programs contribute to high satisfaction and low employee turnover.

Eset is certainly not the only example of a well-functioning Slovak company based on a solid foundation of a great corporate culture. Such cases are increasing rapidly, e.g.  Anodius, and I wish all readers of this blog to be able to participate in building similarly successful companies.

Erik Kubička, CX Education Consultant