In the world of accounting — or any other industry with a reputation for being, well, dull — you may hear the phrase “company culture” and assume that it doesn’t apply to you. Company culture is for the Googles and the Ubers of the world. Accountants are destined to live and work in a cultureless vacuum, right?
Company culture isn’t a predefined set of cool things. It’s not furniture, it’s not a logo, and it’s not a guy on roller skates carrying a clipboard to take lunch orders. Culture is how things are and how things get done in your organization. It’s there, whether you acknowledge it or not. And it’s important to pay attention to it — recognizing its uniqueness, its advantages and its challenges so you can change it if you need to and maintain it if it’s working for you.
Taking the time to mold your company’s culture can help you overcome any industry stigma. Companies like Waste Management, Sodexo and Enterprise Rent-A-Car have created incredible cultures by understanding and communicating their unique values to attract top talent, despite their seemingly dull industries. Here’s how you can do the same within your company:
1. Figure out your own original blend. Just as you are made up of all kinds of qualities — some of them contradictory — your company culture will also be made up of multiple subcultures. You may have an open, transparent culture that inspires trust and loyalty, as well as a very driven culture, where setting high expectations and working long hours is the norm. Different departments within your organization may have different cultures, too. Knowing and being able to articulate what makes you unique — and identifying the values that are embedded within that uniqueness — will help you attract the talent that can boost your organization.
2. Erase the lines between your “work self” and your “real self.” Company culture isn’t just about who you are at work. The line between work and life is not crystal clear. This is why you need to see the whole self of every individual you work with, which may include many personal goals that have little to do with your industry or your business. Getting to know the personalities and ambitions of every individual on your team will take a while — it’s a continuous process of building relationships based on trust, integrity and respect.
3. Forget about winning awards. What does an award-winning company culture look like? Maybe like Google’s flexible workspaces or like Uber’s “War Room”? No. A great company culture can’t be replicated; it can only be discovered. The best company culture for you is the one that best fits your unique team and your particular values; it is evolved and ever-evolving, not achieved. Instead, the greatest rewards will come from the internal wins, big or small, felt within the organization as you eat, sleep and breathe your culture (and hit your business goals, too).
4. Play hard or go home. “Play” is a great word to use when you’re talking about your company culture, especially if your industry is perceived as dull. Culture should be a playground — a sandbox where you can build, mess around, make friends, throw stuff in the air, and see what sticks. Playing is also a way of spotting members of your team who don’t “play well with others;” those who don’t want to get in your sandbox will probably set you back rather than push the company forward.
5. Practice and encourage self-awareness. Every team member, no matter his or her title, plays a mission-critical role in your company culture. Your company’s culture is like an ecosystem or the human body; if one part of that system is suffering, the pain is often felt somewhere else. Employees should be held accountable for letting the team know if they’re in pain. If you’re a leader, don’t be afraid to tell people when their actions are working against the well-being of the whole system. Bottom line: Don’t let it slide — disregarding someone’s poor behaviors or attitudes won’t allow your team members to build their own acute self-awareness of what supports and what hinders the development of your company culture.
6. Sell your culture. Culture can attract top talent, not because it looks like some fantasy land of limitless beers and zero accountability, but because it’s a good fit for the candidate’s whole self. When you’re aware of the culture in your company and take the time to explore and celebrate it, you’ll be better able to articulate and “sell” it to help attract and retain the best talent for your company.
Of course, all of this can be easier said than done, especially when you work in an industry that’s often perceived as boring. But if you make the commitment this year to tackle these six points, you can build an organization that supports the top talent needed for your business’s success.
This article was co-authored by Jennifer Scott, the vice president of talent acquisition and strategy at SUM Innovation. With more than 23 years in the recruiting space, Jennifer partners with executives to create connections with the talent they want to hire and the employees they love.
Dancer-turned-accountant Mathew Heggem is CEO of SUM Innovation, a company that assesses, designs, implements and manages accounting solutions for fast-growth startups, international businesses, established and growing businesses, and nonprofits across the U.S. Mathew is also the founder of the #SUMTech Summit and the #AccTech Cooperative meetup group in New York City, which explores the intersection between accounting, technology and entrepreneurship. In his formative years, Mathew was hugely fascinated by interdisciplinary religious studies and is currently working toward becoming a Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner.