Why Your Culture Is a Fundamental Part of Your Brand


The best places to work invest in the employee experience as much as the customer experience.

Corporate culture is sometimes referred to as “the way we do things around here,” and encompasses the deeply ingrained philosophies and practices that define an organisation and its people.

From new start-ups to well-established businesses, culture can mean the difference between a high-performing team and a dysfunctional one. Organisations with healthy cultures tend to attract strong talent, while promoting high productivity and minimizing turnover.

What is considered a healthy organisational culture? “It’s one where employees feel valued, safe, comfortable, and flush with opportunity for growth,” according to research by SurveyMonkey.

These days, a company’s culture is considered a fundamental part of its larger brand. According to Harvard Business Review, “a strong, differentiated company culture contributes to a strong, differentiated brand.” Businesses that are rated the best places to work tend to invest in the employee experience as much as the customer experience. Many prospective hires look for a strong culture in their next workplace, valuing it as much as a good salary and benefits.

Some organisations, like online retailer Zappos, actually build everything on company culture. “At Zappos, our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff—like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers—will happen naturally on its own,” explains Zappos founder and CEO Tony Hsieh.

In the past couple decades, high-tech giants like Google and Facebook have driven the idea that the best employers should offer expansive, creatively designed workspaces and perks like gourmet meals and on-site fitness classes. However, such benefits are prohibitively expensive for most businesses—and, according to organisational experts, they aren’t actually what sustain a healthy company culture.

More than anything, employees want to be valued and engaged. This does not require a huge budget, but it does require intentionality and commitment. In the U.S., businesses that were recognized as having the best company culture in 2018 consistently prioritized the well-being of employees through practices such as flexible work hours, telecommuting, and social events. When asked, workers at these firms said their workplaces were fun, supportive, and collaborative environments.

Employees are also engaged by a unifying mission, challenging work, and opportunities to grow. The 2018 Careers in Africa Employer of Choice Survey found that the opportunity to develop skills and the ability to make a broader impact were the most attractive job factors for the 20,000 African professionals surveyed. According to a recent survey by BrighterMonday, of the millennials in Kenya, who make up 45% of the workforce, most want to work for organisations that offer flexible work hours, meaningful work, and the opportunity to travel and learn new skills.

Maintaining a healthy organisational culture can be as challenging as establishing one. Zappos and Google, for example, have extensive interview processes that screen for culture fit as much as skills and experience. Especially in the early days of a company, each hire has significant influence over company culture. Based on our experience as well as those shared by clients, we recommend passing on candidates who bring the right skill set but don’t fit the culture; they will inevitably prove toxic to the workplace.

Ultimately, the foundation of a company’s culture is built upon its mission and values. If consistently communicated, and applied equally to everyone from executives to entry-level staff, these core organisational drivers can promote a high-performing, motivated, and committed team. Mission-driven businesses tend to reap quite a few benefits, including 30% higher levels of innovation and 40% lower turnover, according to research by Deloitte.

From our experience, we find that most companies understand the importance of a strong organizational culture. Very few, however, work to intentionally create their own unique culture. Strong organizations understand their unique culture, use multiple methods to monitor the state of their culture, and align the culture to business performance metrics.

A great culture can play a key role in attracting and retaining the best talent, because strong cultures create employees who are brand ambassadors, and talented people want to work for great organizations.  We find that high-talent candidates tend to focus less on the transactional (like pay and benefits) and more on things like growth potential, impact, company values, transparency in decision-making, flexibility and autonomy, among others.

Your culture may be the reason you aren’t getting your top 20% of candidates, or aren’t retaining some of your best employees. Strong organizations have frequent conversations with their best employees to assess the current company culture, and use their feedback to build their recruitment strategy and attract similar star performers. So if you’re not quite sure where to start, start by asking the right questions, being open to the feedback, and then work towards intentionally building a culture that wins for your organization.