Cultivating Your Culture Drives Competitive Advantage
Organizational culture goes far beyond perks
As Colorado business owners and executives, it is easy to focus on implementing a long list of employee perks that capitalize on the active lifestyle our state offers to attract top talent. This includes ski trips, yoga classes, healthy snacks in the breakroom and more. While these benefits are important and contribute to employee wellness and happiness, there is something larger and less tangible but arguably more important that you should be focused on—cultivating your culture.
Organizational culture goes far beyond perks. It is about sharing the same purpose and values, working toward similar goals, building relationships, finding meaning and pride in the work that you do and, ultimately, improving the performance of your business.
Culture can be an organization’s key competitive advantage because it is unique to the company and cannot be replicated. Cultivating the positive aspects of your company’s culture results in more engaged and fulfilled employees. And, there is no one more important to your success than your people. Research from Growth Everywhere shows that companies with strong cultures outperform their competition by 20%, earn up to 1.7% more than their peer firms and perform 2.1% better than industry benchmarks.
When our law firm approached 50th year in business in 2018, we sought to find a way to ensure that the firm’s values lived on after the founders of our firm were no longer present, every day. We wanted to institutionalize and operationalize the positive aspects of our culture created by our founders so that they would be carried on as we became a second-generation firm.
Extensive research illuminated that relationships — with colleagues, clients and communities — are the key reason why people come to, remain with and hire firms. We also identified authentic values that drive performance. For us, it was all in, excellence, respect and giving back. When a company makes decisions that are in sync with its values, the firm will succeed. As the quality and value of the work improves, the ability to acquire and expand clients grows and the company can retain and recruit top talent.
In advance of our 50th anniversary, we developed and launched a strategic initiative to educate, engage and empower our employees regarding our purpose and values with the ultimate goal of having our values incorporated into every significant decision they make, every interaction they have and every outcome they deliver. The intention was not to create a new culture or change our culture (most experts on organizational culture believe that is virtually impossible), but rather we sought to be more intentional about our culture in order to make it a cornerstone of running our business.
Incorporating our values into our compensation decisions, performance reviews and recruiting process was the first step. We also focused on improving governance, strategic planning and leadership development. For instance, we’ve designed a program for future firm leaders, revamped our onboarding process to better reflect the firm’s values and developed a training program to help provide feedback consistent with our values. The firm also recognizes one employee annually who embodies the firm’s values and inspires others.
Operationalizing our values and implementing them into every aspect of our business has resulted in better client service and outcomes, enhanced professional development and improved recruiting and retention because our people are now more often working toward a shared mission. Our employees have also reported finding more purpose and meaning in their work. We credit this recognition directly to our intentional efforts to cultivate our culture. Our changes have also resulted in record financial performance.
Cultivating your organization’s culture requires a long-term investment of time and talent. There will be critics and initiatives will fail, but if it’s done well, investing in your culture will yield a return on that investment both financially and in the quality of employee experiences. As Simon Sinek, one of the world’s most respected thought leaders on culture, says, “All organizations start with WHY, but only the great ones keep their WHY clear year after year. Those who forget WHY they were founded show up to the race every day to outdo someone else instead of to outdo themselves.”
Adam Agron served as managing partner of the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck from 2013‒2019. He is a member of the firm’s Executive Committee and through his M&A practice, he represents private and public companies, professional investors and entrepreneurs.
Lara Day serves as the firm’s chief culture and communications officer where she is responsible for researching, cultivating and preserving Brownstein’s organizational culture. She also oversees the firm’s internal and external communications strategy and public relations efforts.