Pairing the right culture with your brand identity is one of the most important decisions an entrepreneur can make. Your company culture determines how decisions are made all the way from the executive suite down to ground-level employees.
Yet entrepreneurs launching a new business have a lot on their plates, and it’s understandable to feel like they can’t get to everything. The development of a strong company culture is one element that deserves attention early on but is often neglected. Stanford University professors Huggy Rao and John Lilly explain that entrepreneurs cannot afford to neglect culture when pursuing a new venture, as it will inform their organizations’ day-to-day operations for years to come.
The pair sat down to discuss the value of organizational culture and how founders can build a strong culture from the beginning. Drawing from their extensive experience working with Silicon Valley startups and other tech companies, Professors Rao and Lilly share their insights.
Here are a few highlights from the webinar:
Establish a clear mission
The first step to building a company culture is to identify your organization’s core mission. What are your broader goals beyond simply turning a profit? Professor Lilly uses his experience working with Mozilla to launch the Firefox web browser as an example. Mozilla’s mission was never to create the most popular or widely used browser on the market — instead, company leaders wanted to ensure everyone had access to the internet and that it wasn’t controlled by a small group of large conglomerates. That overarching mission informed other aspects of Mozilla’s culture, helping define and support its most important values.
Positivity vs. negativity: What’s better for company culture?
Once your company has developed its core values, do you champion them with positive reinforcement or behave more reactively, focusing on steering employees away from actions and mindsets that don’t reflect your organization? Professors Rao and Lilly discuss the merits of both a positive and negative approach to instilling culture. They note that it may seem easier to take a problem-solving method to cultural issues, but in the long run, reinforcing good behavior is likely more effective.
The concern with a negative approach — i.e., calling out employees when they do something that doesn’t align with the company culture — is that it can lead to overcorrection. Embracing a more supportive mindset and giving a shout out to staff members who reflect your values can do more to strengthen your culture. The one caveat is that it can take more instances of reinforcement for people to really absorb those messages, so it’s important that founders heap on the praise when it’s warranted.
Building diversity in your organization
For companies and organizations seeking to champion diversity and acceptance, it’s important to incorporate these qualities into their brand identity. But how do you do that effectively and sincerely?
The duo argue that it’s not enough to just roll out diversity programs — you need to be able to say why diversity is important to your organization. If it’s a cynical play for good press, then the public will see right through that. On the other hand, if organizations recognize it’s the right thing to do and understand that a more inclusive culture will help them deliver better services and support to diverse audiences, then they can get started on the right foot.
Decide the right company culture for your business
Matching culture to brand identity is critical. Even within Silicon Valley, there are many examples of successful companies with organizational cultures quite different from one another. The one thing they all share in common is those values — as different as they may be — fit them like a glove.
For instance, Google has a very collegial culture, providing employees with a lot of leeway to make their own decisions based upon the information that is available. Apple employees, in comparison, are on a much shorter leash. Professors Rao and Lilly explain that in each case, the organizational culture has been directly influenced by their founders. What you believe in and what you care about most will inevitably bleed into your organization. With a little awareness and preparation, you can strategically create a company culture that aligns your founders’ beliefs with a winning business strategy.
Be sure to check out the full webinar to learn more. Professors Rao and Lilly bring so much hands-on experience to the discussion, it’s well worth the watch to learn from them. If you’re interested in more interactive instruction, Professor Rao currently teaches the course “Building Company Culture” as part of the Stanford Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate Program. It’s a great opportunity to learn directly from one of the leading authorities on entrepreneurship and innovation.
Photo Credit: Getty
While a healthy paycheck is certainly of interest to many of us, the most successful employers have come to understand that pay alone does not attract or retain a company’s most desirable and talented employees. There is now greater employee emphasis on whether the organization aligns with their personal values, purpose, and has a positive work environment and culture.
In this climate having a strong company culture is not just a perk. It is integral to the success and continuity of your business. A strong company culture attracts top talent and most importantly, retains that talent for years to come.
Here are three strategies to build a strong company culture.
Clarify and Communicate
Your company culture reflects what your organization stands for, and as the voice of your business, your employees are vital to ensuring that it succeeds. Therefore, the first step is to clarify what your culture actually is and then make sure that your employees are on board.
Start by defining your company values, beliefs, purpose, mission, and standards. Then communicate these through your spoken words, written words, and actions – over and over again.
The Rule of Seven is an old marketing adage which says that someone needs to see or hear your message at least seven times before they believe it and are willing to take action. This number is not set in stone however it does contain some truth.
The truth of the Rule of Seven is that you cannot expect that your employees will engage, understand, and implement your company values and mission if they have only heard you talk about them on a few occasions.
You will be partway to creating a strong culture when your employees start telling you about the company values and mission. Until then you need to continue to clarify and communicate them.
Leaders need to lead by example in order for employees to follow suit. It all starts from the top.
In my previous article, I wrote about how to be successful you need to connect with your self, others, and the world. All too often I work with business leaders who on the one hand talk about the importance of having meaningful relationships, yet on the other hand, they do not prioritize their schedules to include quality time with loved ones.
For leaders, practicing integrity is not always as easy as we would like it to be. In the moment it is often easier and more pleasant to tell people what they want to hear. The problem occurs when what you are saying to your employees fails to match your actions. The development of incongruencies will result in your company culture going downhill.
Leadership hypocrisy is a narrative I hear too often. It creates a toxic environment and is one of the most prevalent reasons why employees complain about their managers and decide to leave a company.
The good news is that hypocrisy is preventable. You have the choice to be mindful and re-evaluate yourself regarding some common areas of leadership hypocrisy:
- Expectations – Are you holding yourself to the same expectations that you hold for your employees? Do you actively listen to them? Do you respect them? Do you make yourself available for them? Do you collaborate with them? Do you treat them well and reward them for their high performance?
- Workplace culture – Do you take your employee’s career growth seriously and support them? Do you celebrate wins and company milestones? Do you communicate your mission, values, and goals? Do you participate in company events and programs? Are you open to feedback and willing to make changes for the better?
Focus on your employee’s well-being.
Employee stress at work or home affects your business. Impacts range from over-reacting to everyday challenges through to lack of sleep or low energy preventing them from performing at the top of their game.
You cannot assume that your employees are robots and able to turn off their emotions and solely focus on the task at hand. In lieu of this, it is worthwhile to invest in their well-being. Implement a wellness program that motivates and engages employees to thrive in all areas of their life.
Before you go out and start researching corporate wellness programs re-evaluate whether you are doing the basics. When was the last time you asked your employees either of these questions and actively listened to their response?
- How are you?
- What can I do to support you?
The bottom line is that when your employees are happy, they will thrive and as a result, your company will thrive.
Albizu Garcia, Co-founder and CEO of Gain
Building an influential company culture is a prevalent topic right now as many teams navigate working from home due to COVID-19. While it’s been challenging for businesses to adjust, we may be working remotely for a while longer, and many teams are now tasked with ensuring all members, old and new, feel connected.
It’s essential that team members who work remotely feel as though they belong on the team. Their behaviors and beliefs should align with their employer’s values and culture–vital for both job-hunters and employers.
Most businesses realize the importance of hiring someone who fits in well with their company culture. Employees who are a good cultural fit are more likely to be satisfied, perform better and stay longer.
Poor cultural fit, however, can lead to employee turnover, potentially costing an organization between 50 and 60 percent of the former employee’s annual salary, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) .
Before a hiring team can assess whether or not a potential hire is a cultural fit, they first need to invest the time and resources to develop a strong company culture. While doing this with a remote team can be tricky, it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Here are a few tips on how companies can build a culture with a remote team.
Establish Company Values
When building a company culture from the top, businesses can have trouble knowing where to begin. However, having a set of values can help direct and shape the company culture.
The entire team should reflect on what’s important to them and create a set of core values of which they can measure their organization.
Some examples might include integrity, accountability, passion and other core company beliefs. It’s crucial to choose values that are authentic and sustainable, and reflect where the company culture is going.
It’s also vital that remote team members don’t “set and forget” their values. Instead, they should use them in everyday interactions and decision-making.
Communicate the Company Culture
Remote teams often have little to no facetime (other than video chat), which can make it difficult for team members to grasp the company culture firmly. Employers, however, can articulate the company culture to all team members with a clear, well-written document.
The document, or culture deck, should include expectations, how to measure performance and how to assess potential hires for cultural fit. Companies can get inspiration from the culture decks and documents of other businesses with cultures they admire.
A strong culture deck is an effective way to give remote employees insight into the company’s values, mission, vision and purpose. It can also help employers stand out from their competitors in order to attract and recruit top talent.
Use Technology to Encourage Fun Interactions
Remote teams may not have a physical office, but companies can use technology to create a similar virtual space. For instance, messenger tools like Slack and Flock allow team members to engage in fun employee polls and channels where they can discuss anything from books and movies to favorite shows and music.
Using tools like these, companies can encourage interaction and foster a sense of shared culture among remote team members.
Welcome New Hires in Front of the Team
Most companies would take a moment to welcome a new hire in front of the group, and businesses with remote teams should be no exception. Instead of communicating the news in person, they can easily use email or a messaging app.
For example, companies can ask new hires interesting questions and share the answers to the entire team, accompanied by a warm welcome. In addition to the latest team member’s name and role, the welcome message may include information about their previous work history, location, pets, hobbies and any other details.
It’s also a good idea to encourage the rest of the team to welcome new employees when they have the chance.
Prioritize Regular Meetings
Regular meetings are vital for companies with remote teams. If possible, managers or team leaders should set aside time to meet one-on-one with key team members weekly. This allows them to listen to their challenges, take notes and communicate the company culture.
Organizations need to set aside time for team-wide chats regularly. During these chats, groups can cover ongoing projects, discuss any lessons learned, ask for feedback and share any news. Doing this can help make teams more cohesive and boost motivation.
For remote teams, it’s even more critical to be able to put a name and face together. Companies should consider holding meetings via video conferencing so everyone can see each other and observe body language during the conversation.
Cultural fit is essential for all businesses, especially those with remote teams. And while building a strong company culture with a remote team can be tricky at times, it doesn’t have to be a stressful undertaking. By investing the time and effort, companies can build a culture that unites their team while attracting and retaining top talent.
Albizu Garcia is co-founder and CEO of Gain , a marketing technology company that automates social media and content publishing workflow for agencies and social media managers, their clients and anyone working in teams.
By Jared Atchison, co-founder of WPForms
When it comes to your business, would you say it has a strong company culture?
Your company culture makes up your business’s everyday life — from its organizational processes to its relationship with customers. There are many factors that make up this culture, such as its mission, branding, internal communication, values and more. It’s how your business operates as a whole and what it stands for beyond its products and services.
Positive work cultures have been known to make employees happier, promote collaboration and inspire creativity, among other benefits. If your business is going to succeed against the competition, then it needs to cultivate a positive, honest company culture.
Here are three tips to help you build a company culture that withstands the tests of time.
Care about your team.
It’s difficult for employees to care about the company culture if the company doesn’t care about them. It also doesn’t look good for any company to have a leader who only makes decisions based on their own benefit.
Too often, greed and self-interest overpower the team’s well-being and this leads to disorganized operations. In a 2019 survey reported by Harvard Business Review, more than 80 percent of CEOs declared empathy as a key to success.
Make an effort to show your employees that you care about them and appreciate their efforts. Without them, your business wouldn’t have nearly the same chance of thriving. You have your team’s productivity, hard work and consistency to thank for the company’s ongoing progress.
Focus on your team’s well-being and make sure they have everything they need to succeed within the company. You can ask for their feedback regularly so you know where everyone stands and can make improvements where needed.
Implement adequate training.
The best way to prepare your team for the type of culture you want the company to have is by providing the appropriate training. Experience is the best teacher, and giving employees access to resources that further their learning will only help your business thrive. Taking the time to provide training now will save you from trouble and spending more in the future.
Regardless of how you train employees, it’s important that your company’s values are expressed clearly. The right training seeks to improve every aspect of your business by educating employees so they can perform at their best.
The proper training will teach your team how to harness their emotional intelligence, diagnose problems early on, follow protocol and develop their own leadership skills. These are all qualities that build a strong company culture as time passes.
Be an active example.
As a leader, you need to practice what you preach if you expect those around you to do the same. It’s hypocritical to expect them to follow guidelines while you get away with the opposite behavior. This creates a company culture that is dishonest and toxic.
Be an example of the behavior you want to see from your team. You can’t create a positive, productive environment if you do nothing to help others, be kind or provide assistance. If you want to see your company thrive through teamwork, for example, then you need to be the first to lend your hand to those who need it.
Setting a good example also means holding your employees equally accountable at all times. There are no favorites, and everyone faces the same consequences for the same actions. Picking favorites creates an unwelcoming environment that can make certain people feel undervalued, so it’s crucial to treat everyone the same.
It takes time to build an authentic, reliable company culture, but it can be done through consistent practices by the whole team. Setting the proper example and being there for your employees however they need is crucial to building a company culture that lasts through time and hardships.
Jared Atchison is the co-founder of WPForms, a drag & drop form builder for WordPress that’s being used on over 400,000 websites.
Most traditional perks and team building activities don’t work the same with remote teams. You can still give your employees perks like a free lunch with delivery services, but they probably won’t interact with their co-workers during mealtime, eliminating any culture building.
As a serial software entrepreneur, I’ve managed remote teams for a decade, and have learned a few things about creating a distinct and cohesive company culture along the way. Whether you’re only collaborating remotely because of Covid-19, or your company was always distributed, these tips can bring any remote team closer together.
Have a shared mission
The former DocuSign CEO Keith Krach once told me that every great leader should “have a noble mission,” uniting employees under a common shared cause. Remote employees cannot be managed as closely as those in a physical office. Beyond having clear objectives and metrics to evaluate performance, a compelling mission can inspire remote employees to stay motivated even when no one is watching.
Hire for specific values and character traits
When hiring remote employees or contractors, self-discipline, work ethic, and self-motivation are especially critical. You can also create a distinct company culture by hiring for specific traits that fit your business’s values and operating style. For example, at my company Endpass, we look for people who are relentlessly resourceful, creative problem-solvers with a “hacker mindset” and compassionate team players who will go the extra mile to help out their colleagues.
Facilitate ongoing learning and knowledge exchange
I personally make it a point to share interesting resources with my team via Slack, and I encourage everyone to do the same. We also have employee-led “learning sessions” where they present on topics they’re passionate about, such as machine learning, neural networks, design best practices, and persuasion. This is a great way to expand your team’s knowledge, but it also brings everyone closer.
Give regular opportunities for feedback and self-reflection
You can encourage your team to reflect on a weekly basis in a Google document or form. Right now, my team just keeps a running journal of their weekly wins, bottlenecks, questions, and ideas in individual Google documents.
Feedback and self-reflection are especially important for remote teams, since not everyone is proactive or confident enough to send a direct message or schedule a one-on-one meeting with a manager to get the help they need. A weekly journal is also a great tool for quarterly performance reviews, since both the employees and their managers can scroll through the document to see accomplishments and challenges from the quarter.
Weekly feedback also lets more introverted employees who often don’t speak up in meetings share their thoughts and ask questions with managers. Some of our quietest developers are the most vocal in their weekly feedback. Their insights have greatly improved our software and how our product team works together.
Publicly acknowledge wins
You should encourage everyone to share wins on Slack or whatever messaging platform your company uses. These can be personal wins, but especially team wins. This is something managers should be doing, but hopefully also individual contributors.
We collect the best wins every month and share them in our general company meeting, and upload the slides to our private intranet to immortalize them like a company “Hall of Fame.” This is a great way to recognize people’s contributions, as well as the company’s growth over time.
Similarly, our employees nominate an “Employee of the Month,” on the basis of their personal wins and contributions to their colleagues. Anyone other than the founders can be nominated. The winner is publicly recognized at our monthly meeting and receives a special prize.
Create a a “virtual water cooler”
My team is somewhat addicted to Slack, and I am too. Beyond having different channels for various departments, we have ones like #random and #ideas where people can brainstorm and share fun photos. For us, #random is like a digital water cooler where people share jokes, interesting apps, and photos of their pets, family, workspaces, and personal projects.
We also have some custom emoji, as well as emoji that are associated with certain circumstances or people. For example, one developer who’s known for catching and fixing bugs has a special crab emoji that he regularly uses as his status, as well as a reaction to certain posts in our product channel. I use specific emoji to demonstrate my excitement, encouragement, interest, or even disappointment, as do other managers.
Custom emoji can be a cool way for employees to express themselves, but just make sure they’re not spending more time on it than working. Likewise, have a policy in place to make sure that all custom emoji are workplace appropriate.
How To Build a Strong Organizational Culture
- Organizational or corporate culture will manifest and impact your company positively or negatively. The strength of your leadership determines the outcome.
- Defining a vision and mission are key contributors to building an internal community.
- Recruiting and keeping the best talent available and providing them with the best tools and support is key to corporate success.
- Inclusion, communication and commitment from your leadership bolsters your corporate culture against negative forces.
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A company’s products and services get them in the game, but it’s the corporate culture – the interactions with people as the product or service is being delivered – that keeps customers coming back.
1. Defining Organizational Culture
While meeting with a group of students recently on a college campus, I overheard them using the phrase, “doing it for the culture”. Whenever I hear the word “culture” referenced, my mind immediately goes to the business environment and those values and behaviors that contribute to the unique environment each business has. But as I listened to these students and started to unpack their conversation more, I realized they were referring to the hip hop/popular culture and some intentional actions they wanted to take to enhance their social environment.
As I reflected, I realized that there are so many business principles we can find just by observing the hip hop culture. Take for instance, the movie New Jack City, which is one of my favorite movies from the 90s. While I do not personally agree with the lifestyle portrayed in the movie, I am certain that there is value in some of the business practices they used.
As an ISO-certified business leader, for example, I applaud the quality control and security measures they took to protect their organization. Nino Brown’s level of marketing and business strategy were also noteworthy; but that’s a topic for another time.
2. The Importance of Great Leadership
When I think about how “doing it for the culture” could translate in the corporate environment, I immediately return to my doctoral training and Dr. Ken Blanchard’s studies on organizational leadership. Throughout his various publications, Dr. Blanchard repeatedly emphasizes how creating a great organizational culture starts with great leadership. According to Dr. Blanchard, the key to creating a great culture is to build a sense of community using strategic vision and direction.
As CEO of a multi-million dollar company, I have found that creating a compelling mission and vision leads to a very holistic environment where people feel valued and part of something larger than themselves. Therefore, I begin my leadership strategy with a very personal, forward-thinking statement of purpose, or vision statement. The corporate vision gives my company direction and lets the entire team know how we plan to achieve our goals.
3. Invest in Talent
I contribute to my company’s culture by intentionally investing in staff with talent and ideas that align with our corporate mission. I like to use the analogy of a special dinner where, as CEO, I may bring the main dish to the table, which is the corporate vision and mission. However, the magic happens when those around me also bring their “fixings” or strengths to the meal.
The combination of our various strengths and talents makes for a more flavorful and complete meal; which means success for us as a whole.
I ensure cohesiveness and cultural fit within my organization by conducting a personality assessment during the recruitment phase and screening out anyone who may not connect with the corporate vision. Be willing to pay for the best talent you can find because, in the end, their strengths become your strengths. Investing in talent requires a mature perspective, which challenges leaders to understand and respect that we do not hold all the answers and that the prosperity of the business hinges on our shared successes.
Be willing to pay for the best talent you can find because, in the end, their strengths become your strengths.
Double down on your talent investment by building a strong human resource team that is equipped with the necessary tools to provide comprehensive support to all staff. Charge the human resource team with sharing and fortifying the goals and vision throughout the organization.
A key to empowering HR is providing them with resources and clear written processes to combat any negativity that arises. Negativity and distrust fester and tear down culture from within, confront them and stamp them out. Finally, as you invest in talent build up your associates (staff) so that they see themselves as partners in your company’s journey and not merely resources.
4. Successful Leaders Commit and Protect
In a way, I believe good leaders must become champions and defenders of the culture and find strategic ways to evangelize and promote the vision at all times. We do this by constantly staying in connection mode; connecting with our teams on a daily basis and ensuring that we resolve any conflicts and issues early on. Make sure your leadership team is prepared to protect the corporate reputation against faceless criticism that may appear by way of the rumor mill, social media, negative publicity, and so on.
In today’s “Me First” society, “doing it for the culture” means giving it your all to protect and defend the principles and ideals you hold dear. While it is not always easy or convenient to do so, leaders must find creative ways to define and communicate a culture that is inclusive, strategic, and purposeful. Protect your company’s legacy by investing your time, treasures, and talent in promoting a positive culture, and the rewards will be limitless.
“How to build a strong organizational culture” is part of a series on Organizational Culture & Leadership.
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“Company culture” is a big buzzword these days. But, whether or not you embrace the jargon, it’s important to realize that your company — and every company — already has a culture.
Company culture comprises things like how people deal with problems, how open you are to innovation, and how managers interact with employees. When these things are aligned with your company’s vision, your company culture is strong.
This has many benefits:
- You’ll create more connection with your customers.
- You’ll attract — and retain — better talent who are more in line with your vision.
- You’ll have a clearer path forward as a company.
The Alternative Board (TAB) recently surveyed business owners to learn what makes a strong company culture and to understand the challenges they face. You can read the results of the survey here.
One of the most interesting findings was that the longer an owner has been in business, the more likely they are to believe that the burden of creating a strong culture falls on their shoulders. In fact, over 47% of those who have been in business for over 20 years hold this belief.
So what can you as a business owner do to create a strong company culture?
The answer to that question lies in the survey results, as well. Respondents identified five areas: demonstrate strong leadership, build personal connections between customers and employees, create greater transparency, increase profitability, and improve the work environment.
Demonstrate strong leadership
As I mentioned, a large number of business owners believe that the responsibility for creating a strong company culture rests on his or her shoulders. Knowing that, it should come as no surprise that the top thing they believed would help improve a company’s culture was to demonstrate strong leadership.
If you want a strong company culture, all the employee handbooks and memos in the world won’t override weak leadership. It’s a clear case where actions definitely speak louder than words.
Good management leads by providing an unwavering example for the rest of your employees. Strong, dedicated leaders can turn a company around. Ineffective and apathetic leaders, on the other hand, will only set the company free from its moorings.
Build a personal connection between customers and employees
The second most popular way for leaders to build a strong company culture is to improve the personal connections between customers and employees.
Keeping the customer or end-user in the forefront helps build a strong company culture because it keeps the mission clear. When employees can clearly see the effect of their job on the customer, they have greater buy-in to the culture of your company.
Creating those bonds is not always easy. Frontline employees who have daily contact with the customer already have this bond, but other employees who are in less visibly customer-oriented positions can lose sight of the customer if they’re not careful.
While it may not be possible or practical to have all of your employees spend a day working directly with customers, circulating customer success stories or case studies to your team is a good surrogate.
Create greater transparency
Trust is a critical component for strong company culture, and transparency throughout management is one of the best ways to build trust.
Be transparent about:
- anticipated results
- periods of change
Transparency doesn’t have to mean over-sharing — but if you’re more transparent than not, you will earn your employees’ trust in situations where you’re not able to share every detail.
The last two ideas both received smaller percentages of votes by respondents, and they can both be distilled down to the concept of “improving morale.”
Increase profitability: When a company’s fortunes are on the rise, employees are more likely to feel positive. It also can create a sense of openness and experimentation that helps build a strong culture.
Upgrade work environment: Investing the surroundings of your employer is another way to raise morale and create a stronger sense of community.
Take a look at the rest of the survey questions. How would you have responded? Do you feel like your company culture is strong, or could you make improvements?
Read the rest of the survey results here: What Makes a Culture Strong?
Jodie Shaw is the Chief Marketing Officer for The Alternative Board (TAB), a global company providing small to medium sized business leaders help, advice and focus through business advisory boards and coaching.
A mentor of mine once said that company culture was the thing that had the biggest impact on success, but sadly was given the least attention in most businesses. You should pay attention to your culture, because it impacts everything — especially revenue growth and profitability.
Company culture is hard to define, but let me take a crack at it.
Company culture is the accumulation of the attitudes and behaviors of everyone in your company — starting with you as the owner. If companies had personalities, your culture would be the personality of your company.
Culture is based on values — what you as the owner and what people in your company value and think is important. That’s why it’s important to hire people who share similar values to you as the owner.
It’s also important to deliberately shape your company culture. Don’t let it just happen. Don’t accept it if it’s not what you want. Change it.
To define your company’s culture today, and see if you’re satisfied with it, ask yourself these kinds of questions:
Rules and restrictions — Does your business have a lot of restrictions on dress, hours of work, and what employees can or should do? Or is the environment flexible and open — characterized by individual choice and operating more on the honor system?
Manager-employee relationship — Do managers get out front and lead by positive example? Do most employees feel managers are helpful and appreciative? Is there a level of mutual respect? Or are employees frequently at odds with managers, and vice versa? Do employees tend to stay once hired, or do you have high turnover rates?
Employee attitude — Are interactions among co-workers mostly positive and mutually respectful? Or are many employees argumentative, complaining, backbiting or negative?
Treatment of customers, clients and the general public — Do company policies and communications from management emphasize the importance of positive relations with clients and customers? Are employees courteous and helpful toward customers and the public? Or do many of your people present a grumpy, rude or uncaring face to them? And what happens if they are unpleasant toward customers and others — is that behavior tacitly accepted, or counseled immediately?
Customer satisfaction — Are customer satisfaction scores high or low? In which direction are they moving? And what about customer churn — do many customers renew or come back? Or are you constantly having to seek out new customers just to maintain the status quo?
Working premises and conditions — Is the workplace clean, safe and comfortable to work in, considering the nature of your business? Is it an asset to attract new employees? Or is it unnecessarily noisy, unkempt and a place people can’t wait to flee from at day’s end?
Innovation — Does management ever adopt employee suggestions or new ideas? How often do processes, policies or products change? Or has everything stayed the same for as long as you can remember? If asked, would clients say your company compares favorably with competitors, or is the marketplace leaving your company or product in the dust?
Employee initiative — Do employees go above and beyond if the situation calls for it? Do they have can-do attitudes? Or do they just “work to rule,” meaning they do the least they possibly can get away with?
Employee welfare and rewards — Do company communications and policies emphasize that the company is interested in the welfare of employees? Does your company provide benefits, such as medical, dental, vision and life insurance? Are employees rewarded for behavior that meets the company’s value system?
The answers to these kinds of questions will paint a picture of your company culture. Company culture starts with values — what is important and valued in your company, either implicitly or explicitly. If your culture doesn’t reflect the values you hold dear, then you have a bit of work ahead of you, to change it.
MetLife has a good concise whitepaper about values, how they impact company culture, and how to change culture positively. Here’s a short excerpt:
Culture Happens: How to Ensure It’s What You Want
“Create a culture that benefits your employees, customers and small business.
When you think about great company culture, you may think of giants such as Google, Starbucks or Southwest Airlines. These industry heavyweights are regularly included on lists of best places to work, lauded for their happy workers and healthy work environments. But many small business owners are also succeeding at making the workplace enjoyable, building cultures that will help them grow well into the future.
In fact, culture and employee engagement have become increasingly relevant to businesses of all sizes as their leaders recognize the direct impact on company performance. Companies with highly engaged employees have an easier time finding new hires, better customer service, less turnover and are more profitable in the long run, according to a recent study published by Deloitte University Press. The same study revealed that 87 percent of organizations cited culture as one of their main challenges, and 50 percent called the topic ‘very important’.”
This article brought to you by MetLife Small Business. The content and opinions expressed below are that of Small Business Trends.
Distinctive cultures produce distinctive products.
To build something distinctive in the marketplace, you first have to build something distinctive in the workplace. The author argues that “shocking rules” are a building block of a powerful culture. In other words, if you’re doing things at your company that outsiders can’t quite understand, you may just be doing it right. The article includes a few company examples, including one from Amazon. Jeff Bezos insisted for years, even as Amazon was growing by leaps and bounds, that desks at the company “were built by buying cheap doors from Home Depot and nailing legs to them.” Of course, a company with tens of thousands of employees and billions of dollars in revenue could pay for elegant desks for its programmers and executives. But this shocking rule reminded everyone that “We look for every opportunity to save money so we can deliver the best products for the lowest cost.”
Distinctive cultures produce distinctive products.
Ben Horowitz, the high-profile venture capitalist behind some of Silicon Valley’s fastest-growing startups, is out with an intriguing book, called What You Do Is Who You Are, that emphasizes the power of culture, rather than technology or money, as a driver of business success. One of his most intriguing insights is that powerful cultures are built around what he calls “shocking rules” — rituals and practices that are memorable, so “bizarre,” that people inside the organization “encounter almost daily” and that people who hear about them wonder why they are necessary.
Horowitz’s argument is as simple as it is powerful: You can’t create something unique and compelling in the marketplace unless you first create something unique and compelling in the workplace. Truly great organizations work as distinctively as they hope to compete.
That’s why Tom Coughlin — head coach of the New York Giants from 2004 to 2015, whose fanatical attention to detail on the field helped his team win two Super Bowls — insisted that his players arrive at meetings five minutes before the scheduled start time. If they arrived on time, they were officially considered late and subject to a fine. It was called “Coughlin Time,” and it set the rhythm for the whole organization.
It’s also why Jeff Bezos insisted for years — even as Amazon was growing by leaps and bounds — that desks at the company “were built by buying cheap doors from Home Depot and nailing legs to them.” Of course, a company with tens of thousands of employees and billions of dollars in revenue could pay for elegant desks for its programmers and executives. But this shocking rule reminded everyone that “We look for every opportunity to save money so we can deliver the best products for the lowest cost.”
The moment I encountered Horowitz’s argument in support of shocking rules, I realized that it explained so many of the fascinating, colorful, one-of-a-kind practices at so many of the high-performing organizations I’ve studied.
Detroit-based Quicken Loans, the hard-charging financial-services company that began as a digital disruptor, is now the largest originator of home mortgages in the country. Its culture is obsessed with a non-negotiable rule: Every customer phone call or email must be returned on the same day it is received — even if it arrives minutes before an employee is about to leave. “We are zealots about this,” Dan Gilbert, the company’s founder, told new hires at a training session I attended. “We are on the lunatic fringe.”
In fact, Gilbert gave every person at the meeting — literally hundreds of them — his direct-dial extension and told them: “If you’re too busy to” return a customer voice mail, “I’ll do it for you.” Why such fierce attention to this rule? Because one of the key competitive principles at Quicken Loans is that “a sense of urgency is the ante to play,” and this rule brings that sense of urgency to life. It’s Dan Gilbert’s version of Coughlin Time.
Years back, I immersed myself in the colorful (and highly successful) world of Cranium, the Seattle-based maker of board games that reinvigorated a tired category of family entertainment and produced some of the most iconic titles of the last several decades. Everywhere I went — whether I was hanging out with products designers or the IT staff or the CFO — everyone would question whether a particular product, or process, or meeting was CHIFF.
What’s CHIFF? It stands for clever, high quality, innovative, friendly, and fun, and it was an ethos that was meant to infuse every aspect of how the company did business — from its games to its hiring process to its meetings to how the offices were designed.
Importantly, CHIFF was more than an abstract ethos. I met a full-time senior executive whose formal title was “CHIFF champion.” Her job was to examine every ritual, practice, and process at the company and make sure it lived up to CHIFF standards. Moreover, employees had the right to question and object to any part of organizational life that they believed fell short of the standard. “This doesn’t feel CHIFF,” they’d say, or, “Can’t we make this more CHIFF?”
Truth be told, when I left Seattle, I rolled my eyes about all this CHIFF chatter. As an outsider, I didn’t understand why this acronym had such life-and-death importance inside the company, and why it was a daily part of life there. Eventually, though, as I got to know the culture at Texas A&M, one of the country’s truly distinctive universities, I realized that my discomfort was more evidence of the power of shocking rules.
Students at Texas A&M don’t abide by business versions of “shocking rules” — this is a campus, after all, not a company — but they have so many colorful rituals and traditions that they would give Harry Potter and his classmates at Hogwarts a run for their money. Here’s one small example. Upperclassmen and alumni often pepper their conversations with the term “Whoop!” — which is how the school’s many different “yells” (fight songs and other expressions of rah-rah spirit) often end. But students are not allowed to say “Whoop” until they begin their junior year, and violations of the rule are frowned upon.
“Aggie Culture” is not exactly my cup of tea, but most of Texas A&M’s nearly 70,000 students could not imagine life without it. And they have an expression, which they have been reciting for decades, to capture what makes their culture so distinct: “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.”
That’s a neat way to capture the power of culture in organizations from all sorts of fields: To build something distinctive in the marketplace, you first have to build something distinctive in the workplace. It also speaks to the role of “shocking rules” as a building block of a powerful culture. In other words, if you’re doing things at your company that outsiders can’t quite understand, you may just be doing it right.
No matter what sort of business you run, your employees are the backbone of your operation. If your team aren’t happy in the workplace, you may find them looking for alternative employment, rather than sticking with your brand.
Whether you’re a startup or an established business, your employee’s happiness and wellbeing should be put before anything else. So, to hold onto your team and to be at the top of your field, here are some tips on how to build a strong company culture.
All business owners need to be excellent communicators. Whether you’re going through the hiring process, tackling a project, or having meetings with your team, each member of your staff needs to know where they stand in their role. Effective communication can help build solid relationships between you and staff, which can make all the difference and help you retain your best employees. When it comes to improving productivity levels and efficiency in the workplace, effective communication plays a huge role.
When engaging with employees, you need to exude confidence in your demeanor. If you aren’t confident in your abilities, your staff may feel you’re not the right person for the job to lead a team and may look elsewhere for employment. Greater self-confidence and self-esteem will make your team take you seriously and trust your judgment.
Listen to Your Staff
Your employees are the ones who keep your business afloat. You must listen to their thoughts and feelings and take them on board. If a member of your team isn’t happy in their position, it’s your job to hear them out and look for strategies on how you can improve the situation. If you don’t listen to your team, they won’t feel like they’re being respected and appreciated by you, which can result in high staff turnover. If an employee has a suggestion for the business, you should listen to what they have to say as you may learn something new that can only benefit your operation.
Hold Regular Meetings
Whether you work in an office, construction site, or a retail store, regular meetings are a must for all businesses. Having the time to sit down with your employees and discuss the latest goings-on in your company will give everyone a chance to reflect and let off steam if needs be. Your employee’s health and safety are imperative in the workplace. Make sure you hold regular safety meetings, so your staff uses the best habits on site. Also, make sure you have appropriate topics for your meetings, otherwise, your employees may switch off and lose interest.
Make Training a Priority
In addition to holding regular meetings, you must make training a priority. There is always something new to learn in the business world. So, whether you have new software that your team needs to adapt to, or you are enforcing new safety protocols, regular training programs will give your employees the time and resources to stay one step ahead. Regular training can boost job morale, satisfaction, and increase confidence among your employees.
When your team walks through the door, you will want them to feel happy and satisfied to be at work. To give your employees something to work towards, providing incentives can be a great way to boost productivity. Whether you hand out a bonus or give vouchers, showing that you value and appreciate your team’s hard work can go a long way. After a project or task has been completed, make sure you thank your staff for their input too.
Hire the Right People
To build a strong and stable company culture, you will need to employ the right people in your business. If you cut corners during the hiring process, you may end up with employees who don’t fit or gel well with existing staff. The last thing you want is for productivity to slide. So, whether you conduct the hiring process yourself, or hire specialists, you must pick individuals who are willing to work hard and enhance your business, rather than hinder it.
Promote Team Building
In many scenarios, your team may need to work together to get the job done. Whether it’s working on a project or in a training program, your staff need to communicate well with each other to ensure everything runs to plan. Team building is a great opportunity for your employees to learn more about each other, which can only benefit your company in the long run. If your staff know each other on a personal and professional basis, they will build strong bonds that can boost productivity.
As the business owner, it’s your responsibility to provide feedback to your employees. As you learn their strengths and weaknesses, you must be open and honest with your feedback. We all make mistakes from time to time. If an employee has fallen behind, make sure you deliver criticism in a constructive way. How you word things matters. Instead of losing your temper and making your team resent you, deliver feedback and criticism in a cool and calm manner.
Manage Stress Levels
Running or working in any kind of business can take its toll on your mental and physical wellbeing. When under a huge amount of stress, the atmosphere in the workplace can be tense and uncomfortable. Therefore, you need to get a handle on your stress and invest in your employee’s health and wellbeing too. There are lots of things you can add in the workplace which can promote positive thinking and reduce stress levels, such as by having vending machines, a soccer table, or a space where employees can sit down and get away from their duties. Being under immense pressure can change how your team works. Promoting a welcoming and friendly workplace can make a big impact.
For your business to thrive and customers to get the best service possible, your employees need to feel comfortable and content in their abilities. Building a strong company culture will keep your operation running smoothly and ensure your business stays on top.