Posted: 27 Nov. 2019 10 min. read

Why culture drives success

Part 1: Best foot forward

What does it take to be the best? A vibrant corporate culture is key. We sat down with Natalie Faull and Megan Field, coaches for Deloitte Australia’s Best Managed Companies program, to uncover the role culture plays in outstanding private businesses.

It’s one thing to talk about corporate culture. But if you ask Megan Field, partner at Deloitte Private, the very best companies put it into practice.

“In one outstanding private business I work with, the owner has taken the door off his office,” she says. “It’s so staff know they’re always welcome to come and talk.”

There are few factors that contribute more to success than culture; the system of values, beliefs and behaviours that shape how work gets done. What is clear, from the inaugural participants of Australia’s Best Managed Companies, is successful businesses have culture at the centre: they invest in it, view it as a driver of growth and put it into action every day.

The challenge is culture is intangible – hard to define but obvious when it’s missing. In Deloitte’s The new organisation: Different by design, 94 per cent of Australian respondents believe culture is important. But far fewer businesses can galvanise it to drive outcomes.

So how are Best Managed Companies approaching culture differently?

Finding value

Natalie Faull, partner in Deloitte Private and national lead of Australia’s Best Managed Companies, sums up the secret ingredient of a strong corporate culture in one word: purpose. Deloitte’s Global millennium survey 2019 found younger workers, in particular, place a premium on purpose – but only where it translates into action. This mirrors other research from Deloitte’s Culture of purpose—Building business confidence; driving growth, which found purpose-driven organisations tend to be more innovative, and have more engaged employees.

“It’s probably one of the most critical points for a business,” she says. “Businesses that are excelling have really strong corporate cultures. They understand their purpose and what their focus should be.” Often, this purpose stems directly from the founders. Natalie knows of one Best Managed Company that has managed to retain its culture despite exponential growth. The owners attribute this to a focus on its founding values, which have underpinned the business since it was started 35 years ago and act to differentiate it among competitors. 

Actions speak louder than words

Culture can’t live on company manifestos. But taking the office doors off the hinges isn’t the only way to bring culture to life.

“You need to ensure your actions align to your culture,” Natalie says. “For example, if you want to be known for diversity and inclusion, do you have flexible work arrangements and what are your recruitment protocols that enable this?”

She knows of one company who pride themselves on staff development.

“They ensure all internal roles are opened up and displayed before being extended outside of the business,” she says.

From the top

“Unless culture is driven by the top, you’re never going to be successful,” Megan says. “You need every member of your leadership team singing from the same hymnbook.”

She recalls two very different businesses that she worked with previously; one had a very engaged entrepreneur who drove a values-led organisation while the other hadn’t articulated its values from the top.

“They’re polar opposites in outcome too,” Megan says. “Leadership can easily determine how smoothly a business runs and how well managed it is.”

Making it clear

A factor Natalie looks for in a successful company is whether their staff know what it stands for – and do they share in the vision.

“When it’s been communicated well, staff can have buy in and go along on the journey,” she says. “It goes right to the brand. The way a business is advertised in the marketplace is highly linked to its purpose and vision.”

Don’t be afraid to change

A growing, successful business will evolve – but that doesn’t mean the culture will change radically with it.

“If you’ve got those values and everyone is working towards them, your business will weather change,” Megan says. “Those values will be passed from one CEO to another, and you’ll retain that culture.”

Natalie agrees – “That’s not to say corporate culture won’t evolve, or businesses won’t evolve. But those values will always be clear. That’s what makes a Best Managed Company stand out from the competition.”

Meet our author

Natalie Faull

Natalie Faull

Partner, Deloitte Private

Natalie is the National Leader for the Best Managed Companies program in Australia, with over 20 years in practice and 15 years with Deloitte Private. Natalie specialises in providing accounting, taxation and commercial advisory services to privately owned businesses, foreign subsidiaries and the families that own them. With the support of the Global Deloitte Network, Natalie is able to understand and solve for the complexities that exist in her client base for them to operate in foreign markets. Natalie is passionate about providing solutions that add value and tangible outcomes for her clients, while balancing a deep understanding of the family dynamics and challenges that arise as a result. Natalie's experience spans a variety of industries, with a focus and expertise in Consumer & Industrial Products and Agribusiness. Natalie is a Chartered Accountant, Chartered Tax Advisor and a member of the Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand.