Culture is a word that is thrown around a lot. Many people use it to describe work environments, businesses and organizations. Most people probably have a vague idea of what it means, but not necessarily a concrete idea about how you impact culture.
In the past I have written articles on culture, which you can find here and here. Both of these are good, if I do say so myself. Today’s article is on the same topic, but I want to shift the focus just a little. Today we will look into how to create the right culture for your business.
Not all cultures are created equally. They are not one size fits all. When people talk about a company having a good culture or a bad culture, what are they really saying? Simplified, if a culture matches your values and beliefs, you probably describe it as a “good culture.” Conversely, if they don’t align, you likely consider it a “bad culture”. The tricky thing is, everyone’s beliefs and values are different.
This begs the question – how do you create a culture to fit everyone. And the answer is – you don’t. You create a culture that is right for your company. Then the culture attracts the kind of people who have values and beliefs that align with you and your business. Before we jump into creating a culture that is right for your business, let’s touch on what happens when you don’t work at your culture.
It Is What It Is
If you do not intentionally create a culture, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have one. Rather, one evolves – unchecked. In this case, the values that emerge often come from the squeakiest wheel or the biggest personality. And that’s not always good. In fact, this is often how toxic, misogynist, and racist cultures come about.
Without the clarity of company values – which are actively discussed and referenced – one person can start a culture where telling off-color jokes is the norm. Or a culture where the default mode is to complain about everything. Or one where backstabbing and gossip take over. Almost certainly, none of these are the values you want your company to be known for. But if these traits are emerging, it’s a guarantee that people both inside and outside the business describe your culture negatively.
How To Get the RIGHT Culture
There are a lot of well-known and broadly studied cultures out there:
- Zappos is known for being weird, happy, and fun
- Southwest Airlines employees are silly and empowered
- Twitter staff are hardworking, smart, and passionate
- Google attracts the best of the best with tons of perks and benefits
What all these companies have in common is that they have taken the time to figure out what they value and how they want to be perceived. Then they keep these values and their identity alive.
What Do You Value?
There are several ways to determine your values. Everything from multi-day, facilitated leadership retreats to sitting in a coffee shop with a notepad. It’s up to you to determine the right method for your business.
I’ll share one activity that leaders often find helpful. Think of the employee in your company who represents the image you want people to have when they think of you. List out all of the characteristics that make that person a great employee. Write down everything you can think of. Then add anything else you wish that person possessed. As you review this list, you will start to formulate an idea about what you value.
Empowered with this description, start to write words or phrases that you would like your company to be known for. Between 3 and 7 is a good list. Take time to connect a statement or story to each value. Your culture should be starting to emerge. Don’t feel like you need to do this all in one sitting. Record your ideas, then let them percolate for a while. Come back to them and see if they still resonate, or if you want to add to or change them.
One Size Does Not Fit All
This was stated earlier, but it’s worth repeating. Zappos, Southwest, Twitter and Google all sound like fun, cool places to work. If fun and cool is important to your brand, great! Go in that direction. However, many brands need to be taken very seriously. For others safety might be the most important thing they are known for. And others need to have a reputation of efficiency. Those values might not be as sexy as “fun” and “cool,” but they are just right for certain brands.
Never Stop Talking About Them
Once you have clear values that are just right for your business, they need to be ubiquitous. They should be used in recruiting and hiring. They should be present in decision making and staff meetings. Your values should be posted throughout your facility and included in many, if not all, communications.
It’s the talking about them that makes them real. Unless you want your values to be a “flavor of the month” initiative, you need to bring them to life. As the leader, you will want to memorize your values, and have several stories and antidotes demonstrating them. Celebrate values in action. Reward the behaviors you want to see. Own your culture by knowing who you are as a company. Be true to your values. And tell everyone about them. This is what will shape your culture.
While this process is simple, it’s not easy. If you are interested in working on creating a culture you are proud of, email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com. Let’s connect!
Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits and small businesses.