In December, Melissa Thoma, principal and co-founder of Thoma Thoma, kicked off the Arkansas Business Women’s Leadership Summit in Fort Smith. Thoma is an expert in brand leadership and has provided strategy and market research leadership on projects for more than 25 years, resulting in ideas designed to elevate brand communications for clients of all different business backgrounds. She brought that specialty to the WLS stage to discuss workplace culture, or what she calls the “silent giant.”
“This giant force is invisible,” Thoma said. “It’s only felt. It’s difficult to measure and it’s hard to quantify. It’s often elusive, yet when harnessed, it creates the very basis of organizational and business success. Now, what is the secret sauce? Well, it’s the culture of the organization that drives success more than any other indicator that we could name.”
Thoma furthered this point with a quote from well-known management consultant Peter Drucker who said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” She then listed data to back the sentiment up:
- A culture that attracts high-caliber employees leads to a 33% revenue increase
- Employees who say their culture is positive are four times more likely to be engaged
- Highly engaged employees can lead to a 202% increase in performance
- 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct corporate culture is important to business success
- 65% of millennials rank a strong workplace culture as more important than salary when choosing a job
While the word may seem simple and is thrown around a lot, Thoma says “culture” can be hard to define. She quoted Forbes’ definition which is “the shared values, belief systems, attitudes and set of assumptions that people in a workplace share.” But her favorite definition is from Gallup: “Hey, it’s how we do things around here.”
Behind it all, according to Thoma, are cultural drivers such as a deep understanding and connection to the organization’s purpose, the “why” of what we do in businesses and organizations.
“Culture determines brand,” Thoma said. “Brand is a major culture driver. Another culture driver is clear values that drive alignment with processes, strategy and purpose.”
She noted these values must be communicated clearly and often, celebrated and used as a tool to recognize achievements by employees. A great culture, she said, requires a commitment to employees that goes beyond the surface level. And while a strong culture sounds almost impossible, it can be done.
In her own practice, Thoma utilizes a research-driven process to help clients create vibrant customer and brand-focused cultures. A study conducted by Forrester Research showed that what determined the level of customer service and brand alignment was company culture. More than 50 businesses were researched and all had six attributes in common, which Thoma has dubbed “the six C’s of cultural centricity.”
“The first C is clear beliefs. These are your core values, your brand promise, your mantras, your rallying cries, the common language or the self-talk of the organization,” she said. “It’s the core ideology or common mindset of your team, and these values must be crystal clear and actionable and they need to be unique to your brand personality and promise.”
The second C in Thoma’s cultural centricity lineup is constant communication. This means using every sort of communication medium available to talk about the business or organization’s mission, values, impact and brand.
“The third C of cultural centricity is compelling storytelling,” Thoma said. “This is the most special type of communication there is, and this is because our brains are hardwired for story. We remember them better, we relate to them, they create emotions in us. And that’s probably because this is the oldest form of teaching in humankind.”
The fourth C, Thoma said, is consistent trade-offs.
“An engaged management team that is truly developing a purposeful culture should be talking about what they are willing to trade in efficiency, productivity or profit to truly live into their mission.”
The two final C’s are commitment to employees and collective celebrations. Both are important in effective cultural communication as well as organizational unification.
“Now this work is really long-term,” Thoma said. “It’s always evolving. It’s exciting and creative. It is not a straight journey that starts from ‘A’ to ‘culture achieved.’ It’s more like a, I don’t know, a zigzaggy goat trail toward an ever-changing goal. And yet, we have witnessed firsthand the powerful growth engine that this work creates, leading to engaged and more fulfilled employees, to happier and more satisfied customers and to impressive company growth.
“And you know what? Each of you can be a catalyst for this inside your own organizations.”