Company culture is now recognized as one of the most important components of a business. It wasn’t always so. But during the past two decades, perhaps in part due to employees’ increasing demand for more than a wage, but also an enhancement of their lifestyle, a firm’s culture is recognized as a key asset and challenge.
Although there are myriad strategies and theories about what the key components of a company’s culture are, the concept can be simplified to a readily understandable three clear functions:
- Identity – How do your employees view your firm? Deadline-oriented, lackadaisical, punitive, fair-minded, etc.? An employee entering the office feels these attitudes every day, and it matters.
- Retention – Employees of a company with a known creative and positive culture will both want to work there and reduce turnover by sticking around longer.
- Brand development – Culture spreads. If employees are happy, customers will notice. Southwest Airlines and Google are noticeably positive examples of this phenomenon.
Just from a look at the very simplified overview above, it is clear that culture can impact every aspect of a firm. Recruit top talent and improve employee satisfaction, and the result will be a happy and loyal workforce. Consider the opposite. Employees who must struggle to find any true value in their work and perhaps harbor a belief that no one “above” is really focused on that factor anyway will not be happy. The results spill out in all directions – poor performance, growth of negative attitudes throughout the organization, unhappy customers and, ultimately, the costs and burdens of turnover.
Assuming a company recognizes the value generated by a strong corporate culture, how does it go about making a strong impact on building or strengthening that culture? There are articles galore in this regard, here and here for example, and I encourage you to read and think about how the ideas expressed apply to your company.
Below are what I consider the basic building blocks, not the most complex, which should receive the most attention early on in strengthening your company’s culture:
- Take the serious time necessary to define or revise your company’s mission and values.
Why do you exist? Any set of daily rules or procedures will simply become rote text and likely eventually ignored if they are not tied to a powerful statement of a company’s values and its mission.
Your company’s mission statement will likely be a short, written document that directly defines your firm’s goals, its function and its philosophy. The mission statement needn’t be complex, but it must be true to who you are as a company. The mission statement should leave no room for ambiguity, and, in fact, should be the most often used test for employees to decide what is the right decision.
The ServiceMaster Company’s Mission Statement has, for some, been controversial, but it is straightforward – “To honor God in all we do, Excel with customers, Help people develop & Grow profitably.” Note, of course, that growing profitably is last on the list. In first place is to honor God. It is very likely that ServiceMaster was unable to hire employees who might have concerns with this first sentence in the mission. However, the company’s culture was based on something so solid that those who came on board were naturally welcomed into a culture developed from this mission statement. A strong mission statement is also incredibly helpful as employees struggle with ambiguity on issues they confront daily.
- Put team recognition and employee events at the top of your list.
It’s been wonderful to many that newer companies provide free coffee and sitting areas, serve lunches (on the company dime) and simply provide many more spaces where co-workers can interact in a relaxing environment. But this has come at an expense, as management perhaps overlooks the importance of “special events.”
I list this here as a core component of building a strong culture because employees enjoy and are often surprised by special events, whether it be the company softball game, a rewards banquet or a simple office party recognizing the particular people who just closed the “big deal.”
Recognition is always a difference maker for employers and employees alike. Managers must ensure that the people in their departments have the opportunity to truly connect with consistent highlights of accomplishments and contributions from other employees.
- Open the door wide for feedback.
Well, let’s face it, life is a two-way street. Creating culture should be a collective effort. But, unfortunately, the pressures of daily operations and achieving quarterly earnings sometimes impede on just how wide-open management’s door is to cultural queries.
Of course, it’s obvious that a strong culture will be extremely responsive to employee inquiries, thoughts and even new ideas. And management does understand that an employee who feels heard, is an employee who feels engaged.
Unfortunately, this totally good faith openness can break down, and when it does, the cultural integrity of a company can also break down quickly. Nothing should prevent a company from forming cultural committees designed to monitor these interactions, and it should be empowered to take action when necessary.
- In the end, the CEO and the Board are responsible for cultural success.
The ideas above will work, although they will, at times, go off-track. At the outset, we stressed how important an asset cultural excellence is to a company. Such a valued asset can only maintain its value with the serious interest and involvement of the CEO and his team, as well as that of the Board of Directors. This is often where strong corporate cultures lose their way.
There are always valid reasons why companies noted as a Best Place to Work seem to find consistent success. Most of these companies follow the guidelines above to build and continually improve their company cultures. As mentioned, strong cultures enable their employees to perform their best and to feel good about themselves at work.
There is no magic pill, but a whole set of instruction manuals, and a lot more common sense, for building a strong culture. Pick one and give it a go.