If the employees ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Everything gets paid forward; if your company culture breeds negative attitudes, your customers and cash flow will suffer. Productivity, innovation, collaboration and retention are all affected by company culture.
Do you know what your company culture is like? Was it deliberately fostered or did it just evolve as the company grew? What is your role as owner or CEO in creating the company culture?
Corporate culture is formed from the actions of the people making up the company and no one has more impact to the culture than the owner or CEO. You will brand your culture whether you realize it or not; take the reins and build a culture that works for your business.
Here are 7 essential steps in building an excellent corporate culture that helps you breed success in your industry.
Essential #1: Define Your Corporate Vision
You must define what your corporate vision is to build a culture that will support it. Look to your company’s history; find the narrative thread that brought it to where it is today; and weave it into the story of your business.
Just as you do with business plans, take the long view in developing your narrative and vision. An excellent corporate culture requires a solid, long-lasting foundation. Communicate this vision to everyone within the business. You can use it as your mission statement, a motto, a tagline or other statement that says to your employees and customers every day the company values that underlie all you do.
Essential #2: Hire and Develop the Right People
People make culture, not the other way around. Hire the right people, those who will become emotionally invested in the business and its values. This may be a process of trial and error but over time you will come to recognize the type of employee that will revel in your corporate culture rather than languish.
The corollary is that the wrong people must be let go. Employees that fight against the culture, do not fit, or are otherwise negative influences on the culture are better off finding a culture that fits them better. The same is true of any employee who may provide skills but keeps the pot stirred; these employees do not help a business to grow but to stagnate because issues will never be resolved to their satisfaction.
Embrace and cultivate the differences in people. Take advantage of different educational and cultural backgrounds to provide a boost to innovation and problem solving. If everyone is the same then it is less a culture than a cult, even if it is a benevolent one. Differences bring with them keys to creative thought, work ethic, and add to the culture.
Essential #3: Listen More Than Talk
If you talk without listening you will find yourself in an echo chamber. Employees will feel disengaged from the business and the culture if their words are not heard. It’s been said no [man] is an island and that is particularly true of a company. While a single person’s vision might jump start company culture, if he or she doesn’t take into account what the employees and customers have to say, it is easy to steer right off the path of success.
Listening is more than taking surveys or annual evaluation conversations. Informal conversations, a bit of eavesdropping, and being available for people to talk to will expand your business and improve your culture all out of proportion to just talking.
Essential #4: Communicate Constantly
People want to know what’s going on, particularly where it concerns their livelihood. Employees kept in the dark feed the grapevine more than they produce meaningful work. They turn into trolls.
Keeping communication channels open encourages you to listen more (see point above) and provides the feeling of safety and well-being necessary to top-notch work. It also fosters the trust that management not only looks out for them but encourages them to help when the chips are down.
Essential #5: Give Recognition
The saying may be, “Work is its own reward,” but human nature seems to thrive better when appreciation is shown. The type of recognition a company provides and its value to employees shouts out the culture of a company like nothing else. If you give rewards that seem more like a slap in the face or the rest of the company culture undermines it, your business will gain little value from the act and may lose by it.
Meaningful recognition given for extra effort or terrific ideas provides a positive reward and the desire to repeat the process. Rewards should be something employees want to earn and that do not belittle the effort they made so be careful with your recognition. Again, listening will help you determine what would motivate your people.
Essential #6: Provide the Right Space
Make it impossible for people to avoid each other in the workplace. Ideas grow from diverse inputs and work processes are improved whenever all involved have a say. Many companies create spaces for people from different departments and qualifications to bump into one another either in a break room, lunch room or by foot traffic patterns.
Alternatively, make sure there are spaces for groups to meet and ways for individuals to have a quiet space. Everyone needs room for both. Departmental segregation creates silos and the habit of throwing work over the wall without feedback from others engaged with the product or process.
Essential #7: Make Big Changes
If your company has been around awhile and the culture needs to change, be prepared to make BIG changes, not incremental ones. You want staff to know that you are serious about improving company culture and working conditions. Incremental changes bring with them the inclination to say, “That’s good enough.” Or the implementation gets put aside for daily concerns and everything goes back to the way it was.
Be prepared for resistance, however, because just as people respond to novelty they also deplore change. If you have found the right people (see Essential #2) they will embrace the change and help you.
A company is made up of people. People create a culture. Nobody impacts the culture more than those at the top. As owner, CEO, or top banana you are the maker of manners and the enabler of dreams. Develop the culture that supports those dreams and success will follow.