How to connect your culture to your customers

Posted on June 7, 2016 by ATB Chartered Accountants

Organisational culture is a defining feature of every business. It is what shapes and sustains all business operations, results and how your employees work. Even despite the importance of culture in the workplace, culture is quite ambiguous, and this causes a great deal of confusion for many business owners and their customers.

According to Harvard Business Review, culture is a lot more than an individual employee’s talent, and it is much more than a set of well-intended values. They argue that instead, culture consists of three levels of understanding.

Level 1: symbols, rituals and organisational events are experienced in order to gain an understanding of the organisation upon joining.
Level 2: the way people think about and act in your organisation, based on criteria defined by the business.
Level 3: the identity of a company, as understood by its customers.

To create a culture which connects to your customers, it isn’t enough to shape how people behave in your organisation with a set of values. Instead, culture is about ensuring your people think about and act consistently with the promises your business makes to your customers and any other stakeholders. While level 1 and 2 are the most common definitions of organisational culture, level 3 provides a deeper understanding, and allows businesses to better connect to their customers.

For example, Google want to be known for innovation, and Apple want to be known for product design and simplicity. In order for these brands to develop these identities, the employees have adopted a culture which facilitates thoughts, actions and feelings which match up with what consumers are looking for and expect to receive. This is also why the companies are so successful in their respective fields – they are able to connect with their customers.

So, how can you get your business from a level 1 or 2 definition of culture and move towards level 3? You need to focus on an ‘outside-in’ approach to culture.

STEP 1: DEFINE THE CULTURE YOU WANT.

In beginning to define the ideal culture for your firm, you need to ask yourself, “what do we want to be known for by our best customers?”. Whether that be ‘innovative’ or ‘design-oriented’, you need to start moving away from your internal organisational values and towards an outside-in identity. Your customers and employees need to have the same mindset in order to connect on a deeper level.

STEP 2: TRANSLATE THIS OUTSIDE-IN IDENTITY TO YOUR EMPLOYEES’ BEHAVIOUR.

Strong organisational culture will guide the actions and behaviours of your employees. They will exhibit behaviours that are reinforced by your customers, and so, the values of your customers must be carefully and clearly communicated. Culture is the process of defining principles, and then employees are able to determine their behaviours in order to align with these. Customer expectations are able to shape employee behaviour around how they perceive the business.

STEP 3: IMPLEMENT PROCESSES AND PRACTICES TO SUPPORT THESE NEW BEHAVIOURS.

Organisational processes need to be in place develop and maintain the new behaviours you and your customers seek from your employees. Essentially, your business culture needs to be institutionalised within the firm. These processes include all aspects of business operations including recruiting and hiring, work design, rewards, information management and leadership development. Managers will be able to reinforce employee behaviours that align with the company culture, and thus customer expectations if implemented correctly. Leadership in your organisation is particularly important in this. It is important that your managers and workplace leaders practice what they preach and lead by example. Training may need to be invested in to ensure the values of managers also align with customer expectations.

The most important part of organisational culture is making sure that your customer expectations and values are aligned with your company identity. When you do this successfully, your leaders will be able to develop your business culture in a way that will connect customers to your organisation, and lead to great success.