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Jan 5, 2015

The word of the year for 2014 was a hopeful one for workers.

Merriam-Webster recently announced that “culture” was the word of the year for 2014, given the large number of online lookups and a significant jump in lookups compared to 2013.

To be sure, workplace culture isn’t the only kind of culture people were interested in understanding better. Searches for “culture” also included students trying to get a basic understanding of the term, people interested in “celebrity culture,” and the recent debate over the concept of a “rape culture.”

A growing interest in workplace culture

But interest in company culture was part of the surging interest in the word.

In fact, Peter Sokolowski, editor at large for Merriam-Webster, pointed to a recent article about the success of search giant Google as a partial explanation for culture’s newfound cache. The article in The New Yorker quoted a new book by former Google executives about a key software fix by a few engineers:

It wasn’t Google’s culture that turned those five engineers into problem-solving ninjas who changed the course of the company over the weekend,” wrote the authors, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and former head of product development Jonathan Rosenberg. “Rather it was the culture that attracted the ninjas to the company in the first place.”

The New Yorker article raises some interesting questions about how applicable Google’s management ethos is to other organizations. But it’s hard to deny that Google’s workplace culture plays a role in its success, especially given the mounting evidence that high-trust cultures generally outperform their peers.

The connection of culture and success

Growing interest in that culture-success connection among business leaders is heartening. It suggests more and more will take seriously the idea of creating a great workplace — one with trust, pride and camaraderie.

It’s also promising that the general public seems more interested in working for a company with a great culture — and increasingly expects to be able to learn about possible employers just as they can research other big decisions like investment choices, car purchases and vacation packages.

The more that job-seekers demand to work in high-trust, high-road environments, the more they expect companies to expose what their cultures are like and what actual employees say about the place, the more companies will be prodded to treat employees well.

So kudos to all the people who looked up culture in 2014. I hope they’ll keep it up — it’s a good sign as we begin 2015.

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