Start by Thinking Backward

Imagine you’ve been transported twenty years in the future and you’re looking at your company. What should you have done to define your legacy?

Now Think Forward

As an entrepreneur (as well as all managers), you’re most important job is to hire the best people. No exceptions.

No matter how great a visionary you are, regardless of your individual talents, your willingness to sacrifice or the number of hours you are willing to work, your vision will never become a reality unless you have like-minded people committed to implementing it.

Just remember, most of the desirable people you need are probably already working for someone else, maybe even your competitor so it’s critical to create an environment they want to join; one they can flourish in and feel their voice is heard, their contributions appreciated and one where they are fairly rewarded.

Put yourself in their position and ask yourself, “why should I leave my ‘comfortable’ position and go to work for you?’ When you can answer that question, you’ll know how to appeal to them.

Now That You’ve Hired a Great Team, Listen to Them

No one is right all of the time… even you. Employees don’t expect you to always do what they think is best, but they do deserve to be heard, their ideas evaluated and a reasoned response as to why an idea or proposal has been rejected.

If you fail to at least listen to your employees, it won’t be too long before they find another employer who will.

Employers also need to know what their employees like and dislike about the company. It may be very different from what you think. There is a very simple and effective way to find out… just ask them.

You’ll be greatly surprised just how much their attitude will improve just knowing you value their opinion. The best question to ask is, “if you were in charge of running this company, what would you do?”

To build a positive company culture, focus on your employees’ needs, not your own.

They’re Not Just Employees – They’re People With Goals, Feelings, Needs and Personal Problems

It’s important to recognize your employees as individuals and engage them in the business.

It’s not possible or even desirable for everyone to know everything about your business but it is important to show you care about and respect them. One way is to share your goals and vision and be as transparent as possible when it comes to discussing problems and disappointments. Sometimes a set-back can rally the troops but covering up problems just fuels the rumor mill, exaggerates the negatives and creates an atmosphere of doubt and uncertainty which will eventually lead to insecurity with people spending more time worrying and less time working.

Be As Generous As Possible

Don’t wait until the end of the year before you give employees a bonus. Small, but personal gifts, will have a great and lasting impact.

If you don’t have the cash, at least you should always find a way to pay a compliment. A pat on the back or a note of recognition can go a long way, especially when it comes from their boss.

Rewards don’t have to be expensive. “Give recognition where it is due. Acknowledging and rewarding employees is a great motivator.

Culture Is Based On a Set of Values But It Is Not Static

Building a company’s culture takes time, patience and commitment.

So too does changing or evolving a company’s culture. If your culture doesn’t represent what you want it to be, start by analyzing the gaps but don’t look to make small tweaks… commit to making major changes. This is necessary but it won’t necessarily be easy but it will dramatically demonstrate to all your employees that you are committed and they need to be aware, endorse and support what is about to happen.

Every company’s culture is different and what works for one may be disastrous for another depending on the industry, age and composition of the workforce, geographic location of the business, its age and history, competitive factors, size of the workforce and type of work they perform and a whole host of other factors.

Building your corporate culture is so endemic to your company’s success, that I strongly recommend every entrepreneur write down what they specifically want their culture to look like and then, as quickly as possible, depending on the size of your company seek both inside advisers and outside consultants or designate a Chief Cultural Officer to help build and grow your corporate culture centered around customer satisfaction, employee gratification and industry recognition.

And never forget, the most dramatic influence on the company’s culture is ultimately what its leaders do than anything that is said or written that makes the culture what it is.

Preserving the Present While Preparing for the Future

Obviously its important for entrepreneurs to build a cultural foundation on a strong set of principles but, strong doesn’t mean inflexible.

Company owners must also recognize it is equally important to be aware of changing conditions, be they external or internal and adapt accordingly. This does not mean your core values are going to change on a monthly basis. It means that they can be expanded, improved and yes, sometimes discarded in response to changes in the economic, social or political climate.  

Make Your Key Employees Part of the Process

I would strongly suggest that management meet with key employees to openly discuss the company’s culture. Be specific and ask the tough questions. What do you like or dislike about our company’s culture? How would you define our culture? What would you change? Does it matter to you and do you think it matters to others?

Even if your company has done everything perfectly, having these types of “inclusive” meetings shows or reminds your employees that you respect their opinion; it demonstrates you are concerned with their welfare and future development; and most of all, that management is willing to make changes for the benefit of their employees… in short, it reinforces the notion that you care.

Culture is not something that is static. It’s similar to a living creature in that it grows, moves in uncertain directions, is regarded differently by different people and, in many cases, it could be unpredictable and in other cases, potentially destructive.

It is management’s responsibility to recognize any potential factors that could be considered negative, confusing, irrational or misinterpreted and take immediate action to get the company back on track.

Failure to do so will almost always result in inefficiencies, lower morale, increased expenses, lower profits and missed opportunities.

Entrepreneurs should understand that in an attempt to be more inclusive with your employees in building your culture, it’s not likely and perhaps not even desirable to finalize every detail. Instead, view the exercise as a process that is ongoing but constantly improving.

Accept the fact that some questions may go unanswered. At times, there will be differences of opinion as to both the objectives and the means to obtain those objectives. You definitely won’t nor should you attempt to complete the process in one or two sessions, but you should know the direction you’re headed and why and how to get there.