There are only two main ways to build your company’s culture. You can either develop a plan and meticulously implement it or, you can let it develop on its own with little attention to guide the process. I can assure you the latter will most likely come with disastrous consequences. I hate to sound trite but “an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.”
The following are my suggestions every company should follow to create the culture it desires. Please recognize there is no perfect or magical formula and corrections and modifications should be part of the process. I firmly believe that if you follow these suggestions, you will stand a much better chance of creating the culture you want, a company your employees will be proud to work for and an environment that will bring out the best in your employees and all will be reflected in your bottom line.
Don’t Just Teach It, Instill It
You know what type of culture you want to develop for your company, but do your employees know and understand what you are trying to accomplish? Telling them isn’t sufficient. You must make them understand it, believe in it and live it instinctively. Only by doing that can you transform your vision into a reality.
The best way for you to do this is for you to talk to your company’s leaders and have each of them talk to their team. They should encourage discussion and invite feedback. Everything can be improved. Make your employees part of the process and your objectives will not only be developed more quickly, they will be accepted more deeply. Then, you should acknowledge your staff and reward all of them. That reward could be as simple as a company lunch or dinner.
One of the methods many entrepreneurs use to accomplish this is to tell stories. Stories resonate with people in a way that is easier to digest, understand, be affected by and produce action much more effectively than a page of bullet points you recite or ask people to remember.
Further, stories act as a hyper performance vehicle in getting the message to spread virally throughout your entire organization and its affiliates, suppliers, customers and members.
Telling stories is not some unproven intellectual theory to gain adoption of an idea. Stories are a proven technique of effective communication that has been endemic to all cultures throughout history. Endorse the concept, utilize the method and encourage others to adopt the technique.
Write It, Don’t Just Say It
To prevent miscommunication, it is critical you commit to writing what your culture is, why you believe in it, how you want people to communicate it and how your employees and company will benefit from it. This may be easier said than done but that doesn’t diminish its critical importance.
First, if you have a number of leaders managing your organization and particularly if you have a large organization to manage, all of your people may not be in full agreement on what your intended culture should be. In that case, you should have discussions with your key decision makers in order to reach a consensus.
Committing your vision to writing is essential to making it successful. Unless you do this, it’s almost certain that everyone will have a vision that is different from what you thought was the consensus. Your document becomes the anchor and the foundation from which all else can be compared and once installed, it is much more likely to provide a pathway for your employees to take your company in the intended direction.
Live It, Share It and Enforce It
Culture, like most actions leaders want to instill, is less about what is told and more about what people observe. If you, the entrepreneur, don’t live it, it will never resonate with your employees and therefore will never be believed and much less likely to be adopted. An organization’s culture must be built slowly over time. It cannot be mandated in an instant.
The entrepreneur’s influence can be particularly effective in a start-up company. Events generally move quickly, people are operating in close proximity, everyone works in rapid-fire stressful conditions and that can leave a lasting impression on an employee’s behavior.
Entrepreneurs are not perfect but that doesn’t disqualify them from being true leaders (and this is true of their managers as well). if people believe they are authentic and are concerned about other people’s welfare. Therefore, periodically, give yourself this self-test:
How closely do your words match your actions?
How do you manage situations when your actions are inconsistent?
Do you actually practice your stated values or do you just talk about them?
What are the values of the people you recently hired and what were the reasons you gave for the people you recently fired?
What principles do you employ to reward and punish employees?
What are the processes you have in place to encourage innovation and what metrics have you installed to help your employees recognize and minimize failure?
And, if something does go awry, how do you handle failure?
How an entrepreneur manages complicated or unexpected situations can have a great impact on an organization’s culture. It’s easier to build a culture when everything is going as planned, but a strong culture is usually built in response to events that are unplanned and unforeseen. Entrepreneurs should be aware they are constantly being evaluated by their employees; particularly by their actions and responses to negative situations.
It’s easy to keep employees motivated when money and profits are escalating. It’s a lot more difficult when funds are scarce, an employee gets sick, a key leader quits or customers leave for a competitor. Your behavior and actions during those times have much greater impact on determining your company’s actual culture. That’s when it’s best to have a written document of stated principle’s to guide you.
The best managed companies openly accept that they’ve made mistakes and acknowledge what’s happened. They take responsibility and apologize for it so they can move forward together and then they reevaluate their policies so they can manage more effectively.
Therefore, it is incumbent on every employee in the company, not just the owner to take responsibility for the culture it has and to mold it into the culture they want. The most effective organizations are those where everybody comes relatively close to embodying the culture and can acknowledge where they have shortcomings and the actions they are taking to overcome those shortcomings.
Culture Happens: It’s Your Responsibility to Make Sure It Develops the Way You Intend It to Develop
In order to accomplish this, you must create a culture that benefits your employees, your customers and your affiliates.
Companies with a highly engaged staff should expect to have an easier time attracting new, highly qualified employees as they expand; these companies will also be able to provide better customer service, suffer less turnover and be more profitable in the long run.
The key elements of a company’s culture must be well-defined, effectively communicated, periodically measured and evaluated and procedures should be in place to make changes when necessary.
Growth Can Be Stultifying
Company’s must be acutely aware that as they grow, not only will their culture evolve but it may not be understood by new hires, especially if these new people come from different economic and cultural circles. Further, as the company grows, it becomes harder to communicate or find consensus on every decision. A strong and clear culture can overcome these limitations by giving everyone a proper framework within which to work.
One of the best ways to continue growing your new work environment is to focus on effective communication. Read more in our latest installment!