Culture club: why you need to join

Written by: Jason Cunningham | November 30, 2018

Could you start at 4am to work in a cold, smelly fish market all day?

What if I said those people were having the time of their lives – joking and singing and throwing fish around, and their magnetic enthusiasm has customers standing 15-deep at their stall while other fishmongers are practically empty? 

This is the true story of the Seattle Amazing Fish Market in the US, as told in the great book Fish! 

Irrespective of the industry and working conditions, people can still enjoy work while doing a great job and contributing to a successful business. This is the power of a strong organisational culture. Over my journey I’ve come to appreciate just how much my business (in fact every business) depends on the people that work there; without them, we owners are just self-employed. 

As your business is built on your people, creating the right culture becomes critical. It reinforces the attributes, attitudes and actions needed to achieve our goals. If you want to build a business that doesn’t rely on you (meaning it’s more attractive to a buyer), you’ll need to devote time and resources to create an environment where your people are empowered to take action to drive the business forward without you needing to be there.

Culture is hard to define. It exists whether you have two or 20,000 team members. You can either let it evolve naturally, or you and your team can be actively involved in trying to create the culture you want.

As businesses start out, the owners are central to everything that happens, so it’s easier to drive the culture you want. As your business grows, and the owners become less important in the operation of the business, the culture will evolve without you – so you need to take a more deliberate role in shaping it.


Culture tips:

Ask your team. Don’t assume. Survey your people to find out what would help them perform better. We found our people wanted to: 1) be successful at what they do; 2) be part of a successful business; and 3) share in the success of colleagues.

Give your people the tools and parameters to perform at their best. Clearly define what is expected of them, and what ‘success’ looks like, and ensure they have the tools they need to succeed. 

Provide a learning and development environment. Invest in skills training and coaching and mentoring, so your team build the capabilities to execute tasks themselves.

Recognise great performance. This doesn’t have to be material; recognition in front of their peers, where others can share in their success, is incredibly powerful.

Let your team drive it. Involve your team in creating your culture, so they feel ownership and are more likely to drive it themselves.


Ultimately, the biggest determinant of culture is you, the owner. You need to devote time and resources to reinforce your commitment to creating a great work environment; otherwise culture becomes nothing more than buzzwords and slogans that your people will see through.

But if you get it right, each team member will feel they’re contributing to the success of an organisation that’s striding towards an inspiring shared vision of the future. That’s a powerful combination. 


Jason Cunningham is a business growth expert, author, keynote speaker and industry commentator, and owns his own successful financial practice.

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