People and Culture in 2017: What Matters Most?

There’s no secret to running a successful business: You attract and retain good people who, in turn, attract and retain good clients. Ah, but to suggest accomplishing the above is easy is akin to saying Donald Trump is introverted.  Today’s guest column was penned by Sara Whitman, our culture czar and head of Human Resources who believe success, and a successful culture, are the result of two key factors.“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things,” Peter Drucker.

These wise words rang in my ears as I found myself asking, “What are those right things?” Enter Pomello, a provider of culture analytics solutions. The company published a report last month on the key people management and company culture priorities in 2017. The core hypothesis in the report is that companies reach a tipping point when they hit about 1000 employees. At that point, Pomello says that companies start to shift people management priorities towards employee engagement, learning & development and leadership.

But I’m not so sure that the scale of the company dictates that focus. Working at an agency with 100+ employees, those priorities feel right for us as well.  And it has me thinking, is it less about scale and more about maturity of the business? Could it be how well developed a focus senior management has on culture and people management in general?

I spoke with Pomello co-founder and COO, Catherine Spence about my thoughts. “It’s possible. Maturity of a business is much harder to measure. For most companies, there is a fast-growth period that shifts priorities quickly. We definitely see companies struggle to keep their culture strong as they scale.”

The Pomello report states that only 14% of larger companies report having a very strong culture, compared to smaller companies where more than a third report having a strong culture. So how can companies maintain culture through change? I believe it comes down to two things:

  1. It comes from the top. Whatever the culture stands for, if the leaders at the top do not demonstrate those principles and values, the culture will morph and won’t hold steady through change. Leaders need to believe in the culture, demonstrate it in their actions every day and make sure that any process, system and approach reinforces that culture as the company grows or embarks on any other type of change.
  1. But it belongs to the people. If the leaders set the tone for the culture, employees set the tempo. Departments, teams and individuals across the company need to be feel empowered to express the culture in ways that are meaningful – and not dictated – to them. Giving employees the freedom to express opinions, to introduce new ideas and to run with them will ignite the culture and allow it to blaze throughout the organization.

As I look ahead to the rest of this year, doing the right things to maintain those two factors is exactly where we’ll focus in 2017, and we encourage you to do the same. Lead on.


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