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Why is culture so influential?

A recent study by Glassdoor has shown that when searching for a new role, 77% of respondents would consider a company's culture before applying, with 66% of millennials caring more about the culture than the salary on offer (52% for those over the age of 45).

Different firms will have different cultures but having the right culture will bring the following benefits to a business:

  • Drive growth
  •  Retention of good people
  •  Enjoyable working environment
  • Creativity and openness
  • Fairness in the workplace and clients/suppliers
  • Better client outcomes
  • Easier to recruit into
  • Sense of identity

On the other hand, a toxic culture leads to:

  • High turnover of staff
  • Increase in absenteeism/sickness
  • Poor client outcomes
  • Unhealthy work/life balance
  • Improper communication
  • Poor reputation
  • Harder to recruit into
  • Poorer profits/revenue


As there are different types of culture, how does a business demonstrate its culture?

It is easy to demonstrate your culture on your website, but it doesn't mean anything if you can't prove it.  It can be hard to articulate your culture.

With a bit of research you can find many examples of positive culture but here is an example of where a company's words and values don't align with their actions.

 Everyone knows what happened with P&O Ferries…

 P&O's astonishing, quite possibly illegal, decision to summarily replace the seafaring workforce with agency staff is swiftly turning into one of the worst cases of recent years of worker mistreatment and appalling corporate behaviour.

Yet… these are their values stated on their website

 "We operate with integrity, trust and respect for each other"

Words on the website are meaningless if they don't live by them. Need to demonstrate that from top to bottom every person in the business lives to these things.


Understanding culture when Recruiting

The Interview Process

Given that there are many different types of culture it is important to find out about a company's culture through the interview process.

As a jobseeker, there is research that you can do before the interview.

Firstly check out the hiring company's website, and social media, find out if they support charities, and look at their values and mission statement. All this information should be available publicly but most importantly, you need to find evidence that the company lives and breathes it.

At the interview stage, there are specific questions you can ask to dig deeper to find out that these align. Some examples of questions you could ask are:

  • What does leadership look like in your company?
  • Is your company collaborative or competitive?
  • What motivates employees?
  • What makes you proud to work at this company?
  • How the company engages and supports employees?
  • How does the company deal with conflict and politics?
  • What is the company structure?
  • Are rewards team-based or individual? Rewards can drive behaviours so,  if the reward structure is based on individual production, don't expect an "all for one, one for all" culture! There will be sales consultant squabbles!

Make sure you get the opportunity to ask those that work there already what the day-to-day working environment is like.


How does an employer ensure that an interviewee is culturally aligned with their business?

There are only three key things to check when hiring:

  1. Can they do the job?
  2. Do you like them/will they fit in?
  3. Can I afford them?

The recruitment process should be designed to find this out.

The first meeting, which is often an informal coffee chat, should establish if you like the individual and could work with them. By the final interview, there should have been plenty of time to check if they could do the job. Not progressing anyone through the interview process is essential if they don't fit your culture.

To establish if an individual will fit your business's culture, you must articulate your values and be prepared to prove them, if asked.

Here are some examples of the types of questions an employer can ask to see if an employee would be a good fit are:

  • What interested you in our role?
  • How does that compare with your current role and company? This should give a good clue as to whether they are moving for cultural reasons. 
  • How would you describe the company culture at your last job?
  • Were you comfortable working in that environment? Why or why not and what type of working environment would you prefer? A great follow up might be If you could change one thing to improve the culture, what would it be?
  • Describe an instance when you and another employee worked really well together.
  • What do you think helped make that experience a positive one? In what type of work environment are you most productive and happy?
  • How would past co-workers best describe your work style?
  • What management style motivates you to do your best work?
  • When working with a team, what role are you most likely to play?


Mergers & Acquisitions – Getting the right cultural fit

Getting the right cultural fit is possibly the most critical aspect of any deal, whether it's M&A, management buyouts or employee ownership trusts. At any point where a significant change is happening to a business, the owners should be hugely aware of the impact this could have on the culture of its firm for its clients and people.

In M&A, it is essential to spend a lot of time with the vendors understanding how they work, what's important to them, and learning about their people and clients. This way, you get an excellent feel as to the type of acquirers where there could be a good fit. But, equally, it's just as important to spend time with acquirers to understand what is important to them, how integration will work after the deal completes and what this means for clients and staff. Only by doing this do you get a good feel where there may be a match.

Vendors are very protective of their clients. So, to establish whether a buyer is a good fit, a good starting place is to compare client propositions, charging structure etc and then understand what the integration process is post-deal. This is one of the critical areas. If it feels that clients are being shoehorned in to something too quickly or more expensive, then it is unlikely that there will be a fit. It is vital to establish if clients will be expected to pay more for the same, etc. Take time to look at any client communications or magazines the business produces, find out if there are testimonials from clients on their website, and speak with previous firms they have purchased to get their views. That is a good sign if it is an open door and you can talk to anyone.

Then look at their people proposition. Of course, pay grades are essential, but what about people development, inclusivity policies, male-to-female ratios etc? Again, it would help if you met as many people within the firm as possible to help you formulate your views.

Knowing that if a larger organisation is purchasing you, their culture will be the dominant one, not yours, is vital. Do not expect them to change for you necessarily.

If, as you go through the process, things are just not clicking, or you are not hitting it off with the key people pull out. Gut feeling is fundamental. The red flags will come up when you understand more about how their clients are treated, the client proposition and expected integration plans, their people proposition, staff turnover, do they support charities both with time and money. All of the little points will help you make an informed decision and act as a good sense check to what your gut is telling you.



Like it or not, culture is the number one important thing for individuals looking to join businesses so how you present yourself to clients and candidates is very important. 

77% of individuals seeking a new role said culture was most important.

In a highly competitive environment, you must make sure you can articulate your company's culture and demonstrate that you are living and breathing it.

From a pure commercial point of view, when looking at recruitment and M&A, having a culture and identity that allows potential recruits/potential acquisitions will ensure a better outcome. And not only that, but it will also allow existing staff and clients to understand you more as a business and what you stand for, which is hugely important and will only get more critical as time goes on.