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Friday, 9 March 2012

Managing High Growth: Using Your Culture for Competitive Advantage

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In my earlier piece about the importance of culture in high growth businesses I talked about how culture is considered a soft skill and that most business people tend to ignore it, mostly because there is no imm
Aleutian Cultures
Aleutian Cultures (Photo credit: Travis S.)
ediate quantifiable benefit and of course because it involves dealing with people. That's for HR people isn't it?

What I wanted to share in this post was the idea that culture can be a potent weapon by giving you an important competitive advantage. If implemented and understood it can help significantly in promoting a company's growth. Your culture establishes how your company and its staff interact with one another and with the outside world (your customers and prospects). It reflects your core values and your ethics.

So how is this a competitive weapon? Well lets look at two areas where High Growth Businesses experience problems. Finding and keeping the right staff and dealing with new problems. 

All high growth businesses face many challenges which are outside the experience of the owners or the senior staff. There is naturally a high degree of risk involved in making decisions in this environment. However as a business owner you don't want to be the only person who makes these decisions and by getting your staff to face these issues it in turn develops their skills. In order for your staff to be confident about making these decisions you must have the right culture in place. That is firstly to allow them to make decisions and not be afraid of making mistakes; and secondly a culture which support risk management so decision making can be shared across the management team and moves away from blaming individuals. Having the kind of culture which supports this kind of decision making will give you a real competitive advantage.

The other area is the strength of your culture. One of the major growth inhibitors is not getting enough of the right kind of people together with the time taken to integrate them  into your business to become fully productive. Having a strong culture creates what I have termed a cultural wall it works like this.

A company'as cultural wall uses a strong culture to ensure that only those potential employees who align with your culture will stay with the company. Those who are not fully committed or are trying to change it will bounce off the wall. That is either deliberately not join or leave soon after joining. Those who align with your culture will cross the wall and feel protected. This affinity leads to significantly lower attrition and a quicker absorption of new staff bringing them up to full productivity quicker, not to mention the increased likelihood of staff putting in more effort and extra hours into something to which they feel fully committed. 

By contrast those organisations with a weak or poorly developed culture suffer from inherently higher attrition as left unchecked people develop pockets of competing cultures, which results in a generally high level of attrition, and an increased chance that new employees will take longer to get up to speed. 

It should be obvious from the above how important Culture is to a business, the quicker companies get to grips with this the better their chance of longer term high growth.

Exigent Consulting provides specialist services for High Growth Business Business Turnaround, and Mentoring to the Small and Medium Business. We help business owners improve the profit performance of their business. 


  1. I agree that culture is the best and most easily managed with the right commitment from the top down. If companies believe they do not need to think about culture they are missing a great opportunity to strengthen their organizations. Regardless if it is a conscious effort or not culture exists in all organizations - Why not create an environment that is supported by reinforcing systems to operate in an efficient manner to achieve organizational goals?

    1. Thanks Brian, Your views chime with my own. I am still surprised at the number of businesses both large and small who discount culture as a serious issue for their business.