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Unpacking Culture

Workculturati invites Chris Thornhill, Co-Founder and CEO of Growth Animals and fellow lockdown entrepreneur, to share his top 5 tips for building a team culture, inspired by cognitive biases and his big brand marketing experience at Carlsberg Group and The Goodwood Group.

1. Tell Stories (Storytelling Effect)

Fostering a culture is not a box ticking exercise. Having a clear, authentic and thriving corporate culture from the inside out is a fundamental building block for any successful modern day organisation. Therefore it should be exempt from the ever-present corporate BS and steer clear of vacuous, copy-paste culture statements that can easily be lifted from company to company. This is your chance to tell your story. Behavioural psychology has shown that people recall stories better than facts alone. Storytelling is deep-rooted in human behaviour, across cultures and generations. If, as a business leader, you aim to rally people around your vision or values: escape your comfort zone, be vulnerable and tell your story. 

2. Keep it Simple (Hick’s Law)

According to Hick’s Law, having more options can complicate decision-making. Whereas the power of three (and yes, we appreciate the irony of this being a top 5 list) can help to simplify matters. In any given situation, it’s difficult for the human brain to grasp or retain too many pieces of information at once, which means that if we’re presented with fewer options, there will be a greater chance of valuable information cut-through. This is especially true of information and values pertaining to a company’s culture. I’ve experienced many businesses in my time that have proudly extolled the virtues of their eight or nine company values, while Johnny and Sally in IT, barely remember two - and certainly struggle to see the relevance of the remaining seven. So, remember Hick’s Law: keep it simple and stick to three core values. 

3. Make it Personal (Anchoring) 

Anchoring is a cognitive bias where an individual depends heavily on an initial piece of information (considered to be the "anchor"). The more memorable and the more personal to that individual the information is, the more likely they are to retain it as an ‘anchor’, that can be triggered through repetition. In my business, we value and encourage individual diversity and the need for everyone to be aware of and to embrace their strengths. How this is ‘anchored’, is by everyone having their own animal personality. As a Falcon, I’m encouraged to embrace my imagination and spontaneous problem-solving, while also being reminded not to judge myself too harshly, as Falcons are often their own worst critic. Through regular referral to people’s animal personality types, this ‘anchor’ continues to act as a valuable vehicle for our company culture. You too can find out your animal personality, by taking the test at the bottom of our About page:

4. Walk the Talk (Confirmation Bias)

Confirmation bias is the idea that people seek out information and data that confirms their pre-existing ideas or beliefs. This bias has become infamous, due to the polarising effect it can have on people’s world views, as seen in the echo chambers of social media. We can, however, gather learnings from it in a business culture context. What it teaches us, is that people are more likely to accept, agree with and champion a company's culture, if they are consistently met with simple evidence that supports the culture that they initially bought into. For example, if one of your values is around winning, then make sure you celebrate every win like you mean it and ensure people are clearly rewarded for those wins. Or, if one of your core values is integrity, it’s important to herald such acts of integrity and visibly champion actions that support said value, such as charity work.

5. Assemble Culture, Together (IKEA Effect)

Why would anyone want to impose a culture on someone, without them feeling in some part responsible for its creation? The IKEA effect is named after everyone’s favourite purveyor of meatballs (oh, and furniture giant) and describes how people tend to value things more if they assemble it themselves. In business, while corporate culture often originates from a board room or from a small group or founders, the culture can be implied, rather than expressly defined. It develops organically over time, growing from the cumulative traits of its collective hires. If you make your people part of the process of defining that culture and part of the regular process of re-evaluating and refining that culture, they will feel an affinity towards it and will be far more likely to represent it and laud it both internally and externally.  

Chris Thornhill

For Workculturati

Chris Thornhill is Co-Founder & CEO of Growth Animals, a high achieving growth consultancy team, who specialise in enabling businesses to apply effective marketing in order to accelerate growth and achieve their aspirations. He’s also a Trustee for Dementia Support and a fan of behavioural psychology and its role in marketing and the workplace. 

Image credit @amandaclarke_illustration

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