Building a Better Culture: The Power of Autonomy and Happiness in Business Success


The business world is increasingly concerned with culture. From tech giants like Google to consumer product groups like Proctor & Gamble, companies are re-imagining and re-focusing their attention on their company culture and employees.

But what is it that makes a great company culture? And why is it so important?

Chances are if you ask any company with a top-rated culture, you’d get very different answers. Some are more conjecture than factual, but what all successful company cultures have in common is simple — they operate on basic psychological principles.

Why Worry About Culture?

The focus on company culture has come around in two major ways, but is important for any great number of reasons.

Consumer Expectations

First, a number of high profile companies, new and old, have received attention for focusing on their culture. Google has always led the forefront of a strong company culture that produces excellent results. However, other groups like Samsung, who is struggling in the current market, is adjusting their culture and perspective in hopes to imitate Google’s success.

Meanwhile, companies with culture struggles are seeing heat from consumers. Uber, for example, has faced some heavy criticism of it’s culture, and in the midst of backlash in recent weeks is now promising to make changes. The moral of the story — culture has become a factor in not only how consumers perceive your business, but whether or not they’ll patronize it.

Employee Expectations

Another key reason to care about culture? Millennials. Soon to make up the majority of the workforce, most of Gen Y ranks company culture as very important to them. As baby boomers retire, attracting these millennials will become more and more vital to sustained business success and growth. In order to attract top millennial talent, culture must be a priority.

If neither of these seem reason enough, then consider this: research suggests that happy workers are more productive. Research out of the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom suggest that happy workers are up to 12 percent more productive than their unhappy counterparts. Meaning culture is ultimately beneficial to your company’s bottom line.

What Makes a Good Culture?

A lot of companies have a different approach to culture, but there are some common factors.


Transparency can have positive results for your employees and your business. Remember Google?

They’ve been the top company culture eight times in the past 11 years for a reason! Part of this is their transparency. Upon starting at Google, not only do engineers generally have broad access to their code, but are encouraged to participate in weekly “all-hands” meetings on Fridays where anyone can ask questions about anything.

This push for transparency works well in that it promotes a sense of trust and value in the company’s employees, as well as gives a sense of ownership to the team. And when everyone knows the goals and on-goings of the company, they feel as if they have a hand and responsibility in its success.

Autonomy & Ownership

Everyone has had that moment when they felt micromanaged. And no one enjoys it.

According to Harvard Business Review, micromanagement can lead to feelings of frustration and demoralization, and often impacts efficiency. In a good company culture, micromanagement is largely eliminated. The reason? Autonomy.

Look amongst the best company cultures and nearly all give their employees a certain degree of autonomy. But why are these cultures that are focused on autonomy seeing such great success?

A study out of the University of Michigan suggests that employees who are given autonomy and empowerment over their work have a higher commitment to their organization, show increased motivation and performance efficiency, and are more likely to report a higher level of job satisfaction.

While granting autonomy doesn’t mean giving employees free reign to what they wish, it does mean giving certain base guidelines or boundaries that provide structure while giving them a chance to go out on their own, whether it be giving ownership of a project, or a chance to explore their own idea.

Team Mindset

Being an employee at a large company can be a challenge. Everyone wants to feel unique and individual, however, much of successful work is accomplished in teams. Furthermore, not every person responds the same way to communication or group work. So what’s a company to do?

First, treating your employees like a team rather than worker-bees is essential to facilitating a positive culture. An employee goes to work, performs a task or job, then goes home. A team-member is a part of something bigger. A team is less efficient when members are missing. A team means ownership and responsibility to one another.

The psychology behind teams is powerful, and can help shift perspective, but perhaps more interesting is what makes for a successful team. Google’s Project Aristotle sought out the answer to this when they found certain teams within the company performed better than others, but that there was no consistent format to the successful teams.

The answer they found? Psychological Safety. When people feel safe to share their personal self at work without fear, and know that they will be heard equally conversationally and with empathy, they find more success in a team format. The moral of the story? Balance between individuality and team dynamics is key.

Your Culture and Your Growth

If you’re interested in business growth and efficiency, you must build a culture to match. But knowing what type of culture will best benefit your business can be a challenge. The key is to pick a culture that highlights the three key principles of a good culture, while making it uniquely your own. By creating and embracing a cultural shift, you can build and spread a fostering community that benefits both your business and your team.

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