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What is culture, with Adam Wardel

Culture is integral to the success of any business, and a positive culture helps foster better performance, productivity, and client experience. If you don’t believe us, Forbes has laid it all out. We spoke to Adam Wardel, General Counsel and Data Privacy Officer at Simplus, who offered illuminating insights on the best ways to orient your company's culture. 

According to Wardel, culture is complex, especially given that it is intangible. Culture is something that changes from business to business, yet most companies tend to box it into office perks: free T-shirts, well-stocked fridges and paid time off. And while perks have their place and can indeed be an indicator of a caring culture, they do not contribute to good culture.

Wardel says good culture is apparent when you can be a steward to your employees and colleagues. “Watching out for one another shouldn’t go so far as saying ‘our company is a family’, but it should create an environment where you genuinely treat others as you would like to be treated.” 

He adds that an important aspect of this, is to approach your colleagues by acknowledging that they have a life outside of their work. “You could find a mutual interest, such as sport or cooking, and use that to build a real connection. If you’re passionate about going to the gym and one of your employees wants to get fit, offer to help them achieve their goal. Helping your people bring their fullest selves to work will better the company.

“Always embrace the fact that you and your people are human - and that means sometimes things will go great and other times not so well. Despite the human nature of success and failure, if leadership is there to support its people, that will enhance the true culture of a company.”

Wardel also makes the point that stewardship is not solely a top-down principle, it is important to enable everyone to feel that they are stewards of the company; you want people to feel as though their actions are helping to propel the company toward its goals. Employees expect more transparency as to what is going on. Gone are the days of people just turning up to work with the expectation that leadership is doing the right thing. The modern employee wants to fully understand the narrative of the company. Not only where the company is now but, crucially, where it is heading. 

Being honest with your staff about how the company is doing is another aspect of stewardship. Did sales hit their targets? What is EBIDTA and do we have targets for it? Are we looking to make an acquisition? These are all important questions, and their answers provide employees with crucial information, such as the future direction of the company. If employees feel a part of that journey, they are much more likely to help the company achieve its goals, and to achieve them more efficiently.

Culture might be intangible, but it is important. It is a feeling of belonging and it’s a motivator. Wardel says the culture at Simplus is built around three key tenets: critical thinking, the underdog spirit and stewardship. “Every goal the company has is tied to those tenets, they provide a foundation to grow from and a standard to aim for. Culture is not about T-shirts or lunches, culture is about embodying these tenets and feeling truly connected to the company you’re working for.”

Ultimately, culture is about creating an environment where all staff, no matter their position in the company, are  challenged and made to feel like they are important. It is about aligning your goals as a company, as a whole, and moving towards them as a collective. 

No one can tell you what your culture must look like. It must be unique to your company and people. What we can tell you, however, is that the best investment you can make as a company - if you genuinely want to improve - is to invest in your people and contribute positively to the culture that surrounds them 40-plus hours a week.

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