Company culture – cold and professional or warm and approachable
Company culture – cold and professional or warm and approachable
Every workplace has its own microculture as a result of its sector, its location in the world and the diverse range of individuals that make up the workforce. However, culture is not simply a case of ethnicity, it is a way of thinking and acting. At the individual level, we can define culture as the way a person thinks, acts or speaks based on their experience and background. At the group or company level, however, culture can generally be seen as the historical experience and cooperation of the people who make up the group.
Unlike the individual, who we assume has some control over his experiences, thoughts, and general mindset, corporate culture is often governed by group guidelines and rules. Another, potentially greater factor influencing corporate or group culture is internal hierarchy. The “higher” or “noisier” parties in the group often push the culture to follow their experiences and beliefs. The opinions or thoughts of the “inferior” or “quieter” members of the group are often considered less important than the group at large. This eventually becomes part of the group’s culture as well.
This discussion is about corporate or group culture and how establishing, both actively and subconsciously, a company’s culture can affect external and internal perceptions of that company. Specifically, we look at the differences between a cold ‘corporate’ and perceived professional company culture versus a more relaxed, warm and approachable business model.
Of course, anyone who works anywhere always strives to be professional – as it should be. However, some companies seem to believe that being professional also means being cold, unapproachable, focused and competitive, rather than being supportive, approachable and collaborative.
Is this the right way to increase profits? Is a cold, competitive environment achieving goals at the expense of workforce morale and happiness? Is it sometimes worth losing staff members if at the end of the day they are just seen as dead weight because they can’t cope?
The answer is that it depends…
Cold and professional, warm and approachable work best in different industries and sectors. The financial sector, for example, is best served by an unemotional, facts-and-figures-oriented workforce. It is also important to achieve goals and overcome barriers and this can only realistically be done if everyone is focused on the work and not on organizing their next meeting.
Such a culture should prevail in a company that innovates, disrupts or makes major changes. Amazon is probably the best example we have right now. The fast-paced, unforgiving workplace culture there, from the warehouse floor to Bezos himself, is legendary. The culture at Amazon is described as “gladiatorial,” which is what you need if you’re determined to take on every retailer anywhere in the world and change the way they’ve always done things, forever.
However, this approach still requires professionalism. Amazon is not a cunning pirate, but a well-organized, fine-tuned and extremely well-informed machine. There’s no real room for feelings there. You may see this as cruel, difficult, unfair or wrong, but Amazon will simply tell you that you are in the wrong stage…
How about warm and approachable?
Where do pictures of the harbor bridge, posters of Thai celebrities, cute puppies and fluffy kittens fit in? Apparently, according to Japanese researchers, “kawaii” helps people get their work done, and do it better. Interestingly, a 2012 study found that pictures of older cats and dogs only slightly improved people’s focus and diligence. As if people need to care; well, actually, they do.
In some industries and companies, being warm and approachable will achieve the best results, leading to increased professionalism and profits. Of course, in some places, if you get caught staring at kittens to improve your performance, you’ll be on the ear for wasting your time.
However, other companies, like Netflix, see staring at kittens, chatting about problems, and taking the time off you want as time invested, not wasted. This company sees nurturing and developing its people as key to its profits. Oddly enough, giving people some leeway and letting them set their own goals and pick on the boss seems to work too. The people at Netflix are also professionals. Hmmm…
Similar to how a “colder” culture can enforce internal and external trust and confidence in a financial company, a “warmer” culture should allow for greater exploration of creativity. Art Industry; design, marketing, photography, music, creativity, etc. they are probably more likely to see an increase in productivity and efficiency in a calmer, emotional environment.
As a director myself, and as I write this article, I find myself analyzing my own company; what our culture is and what I would like it to be. I own a small digital agency in Bangkok, Thailand. As a creative company, I’d like to think we fall more on the warm, approachable side of the scale. That’s definitely the side I’d want to sit on anyway. We don’t wear suits to the office, don’t have punch cards, listen to music, drink too much coffee and love a good conversation.
Can you be warm and professional at the same time? I’d like to think so. We are pretty laid back and that suits me for my type of business. Of course, this does not mean that we do not have systems and methodology. That doesn’t mean we don’t have rules and guidelines, and it certainly doesn’t mean we aren’t professionals in the business we do. In our case, the warmth and approachable atmosphere we convey is beneficial to the type of service we provide. Design and marketing is a personal thing, different for each of our clients, and I think we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs as effectively if we were swinging on the colder “professional” side of the cultural fence.
Where do you find yourself and your business? Is this what you want to portray? Is your company culture the best for your customers and staff?
In the end, it looks like you can choose because both models work. Keep in mind, however, that the larger and older the company, the more difficult it can be to change that company’s culture. How you may want to look and act and how your staff and customers see your business may be two different things.
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