A company’s culture is a fundamental driver of its performance and success, or failure. But what does successful business culture look like these days? How can it be achieved? And what unexpected role can compliance play in fostering positive culture?
Business or company culture, like all cultures, is multifaceted, developing around its people and their shared objectives, practices, and beliefs. This is reflected in organization-wide patterns of thinking and behavior, underpinned by core values, and shaped by the firm’s expectations of its employees. This isn’t a one-way street, however, and when employees arrive at the office or log on remotely, their backgrounds, experiences, personal values, and individual expectations of their employer come with them.
In the right conditions—where everyone’s voice is heard, and ideas from a range of employee perspectives are sought and valued—this can foster cultural diversity in the truest sense. But in an environment that is less connected, cohesive, or collaborative (or worse yet, toxic), the result is more likely to be a clash of cultures that restricts a business’s progress. So, how can organizations establish and maintain a healthy, productive culture?
WHAT A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS CULTURE LOOKS LIKE
Successful business culture is built on a foundation of core values that permeate everything the business and its people do. At StarCompliance, for example, we strive to be dynamic, entrepreneurial and caring in everything we do as a business and as individual employees.
As a dynamic company, we understand our industry landscape and wider macro environment, and the importance of being flexible so that we can adjust and adapt as the landscape changes and our clients’ needs evolve. Our entrepreneurial spirit is manifest in our tenacity and fearless, creative approach to delivering results, as well as our drive to be hyper-innovative in developing the best tech. People and organizations need to be brave enough to try new things, to learn from both successes and mistakes, and then apply the lessons learned to future endeavors.
At Star, we also recognize the importance of caring for colleagues. Demonstrating empathy is vital for forging and maintaining relationships, especially when interactions with colleagues outside the immediate team are relatively infrequent, or during periods of upheaval (pandemic lockdowns being an obvious example). This is a big part of our culture, where many of our people are working in a hybrid or fully remote work environment. But out of sight definitely doesn’t mean out of mind at Star, and it’s why our people feel supported. They know that their colleagues will be right there for them if needed, and as a result know why, ultimately, they’ll succeed.
ACTIVELY SHIFTING COMPANY CULTURE
Over time society evolves, attitudes change, and business culture adapts to reflect it. Once unheard of, many employees around the world are now on first-name terms with their senior leaders. London’s City bankers no longer wear bowler hats and, for many, every day is dress-down Friday. And since the Covid upheaval, remote and flexible working are no longer restricted to just senior managers; they’re now an option, or necessity, for employees at every level.
Broad changes such as these represent a passive drift in culture, which is simply an organization moving with the times. But it is also possible, even necessary at times, to actively shift an organization’s culture. As one example, the growing demands placed on increasingly stretched compliance departments mean companies can no longer keep abreast of everything employees are doing, even with systems in place to automate many processes. A deliberate shift in culture is hence needed to support compliance. How does an organization go about accomplishing this shift?
EMPLOYEES: THE TRUE FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE
For compliance to be effective, it needs to be more than a distinct business function, or one that only knocks on employees’ doors to collect information when reporting deadlines are looming. Rather, the function of compliance needs to be embedded across the entire organization, and something employees are conscious of every day. This requires a cultural shift, a change in mindset, so that all employees are empowered to be culture-of-compliance advocates: equipped to serve as the first line of defense against unethical activity.
To achieve this, staff needs to know that everyone is responsible for their own compliance through proper adherence to conduct, accountability, monitoring and reporting, and training and competency regulations. They also need to understand the role the company's compliance function plays in driving employee behaviors and how this results in better business.
HOW TO GET THERE: CONFIRMING RESPONSIBILITIES
Everyone in the organization has a role to play in nurturing and maintaining a culture of compliance. Senior leadership has the responsibility to define the desired state of company culture that aligns with the firm’s mission. They need to instill the importance of an “all-hands” approach to supporting compliance by communicating effectively, listening to employees, and reporting positive results and business successes to staff.
Managers need to lead by example and set the standard for behavior and best practices. They must: define the role each employee plays in compliance; provide the necessary tech, resources and training for employees; and drive the firm’s culture at the team and departmental level. And employees must understand and embrace their role in compliance—actively participating in training, and learning to use the tools available to them so they recognize questionable conduct and are confident to report it if it ever becomes necessary to do so.
When leadership actively shifts culture to evolve with changing demands and requirements—and weaves compliance into the organizational fabric—it doesn't take long for it to have a positive impact on the business. Employees understand what's required and why it's important. They participate in the necessary processes and contribute to productive behaviors at whatever area of the business they operate in. This increases certainty in the decisions made and the direction the company is headed in, enabling stronger results with less risk.