The ‘culture trap’ and how to avoid it

I listened to a podcast recently in which a business leader talked about communication styles and how he believed that the business environment, particularly at a senior level, is not always democratic. (It was Steven Bartlett, on Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail – a strong recommendation for anyone who hasn’t already listened to it).

Too many cooks

He used the example of company culture to illustrate his point – suggesting that you can’t establish company culture by consensus. If you do, you’ll try and please everybody, which in reality often means you end up pleasing nobody. Perhaps this is just a case of too many cooks, but it’s also almost certainly a route to an unclear, even fragmented working environment.

As a small business copywriter, I’ve noticed something similar when I work with clients on their copywriting and content projects. Ideas and input from the wider team are helpful, but there needs some clarity of direction and focus to achieve the best results.  

Input vs outcome

In my experience, people want (expect, even) clarity and focus, especially if it helps with decision making – ensuring work is carried out as efficiently as possible.

So how can you achieve the outcome you need without trampling all over the different styles and varying input levels of the people involved in your writing project?

  • Start with a comprehensive brief. Cover off any obvious points of contention, set out who will be involved, in what capacity and where signoff ultimately lies.
  • Have a clear project structure in place – not just completion dates but how communication will happen before, during and at the wrap-up stage.
  • Ask questions and raise concerns or issues promptly.

It’s personal and political

Communication styles are very personal – but a good writer can (and should – with very few exceptions) work with them, not against them.

But the question of signoff remains one of the most critical pieces of the puzzle. Decision making by committee is rarely a straightforward process, especially when politics are at play. When you throw in various amendments and editorial question marks, it’s important to have someone with sufficient sway lined up: if they’re not willing and able to call it when it comes to final round edits, you’ll be better off finding someone who is.

Clarity is still king

And it might sound obvious, but style should never be achieved at the expense of clarity. So, if you’re hiring a writer to help with your culture project or looking for content that aligns with your brand and tone of voice, remember that the phrase ‘keep it simple’ is overused for good reason!

Getting your message across doesn’t have to be complicated, but learning to streamline the words on the page and the process of getting to that outcome does require an element of planning.

It’s like all relationships that are worth keeping, whether you’re the writer or the client: taking the time to nurture a fledgling project at the outset really does pay off.   

Get in touch if you’ve got a project you need help with or would like to find out more about what I do. First published on

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