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Creating a Company Culture

How to make your own core values the core of your business

(YoungBiz) - It's an age-old question: What would you do for money? As a business owner, it becomes more than just a philosophical query to mull over with friends. Your answer will determine the guidelines and expectations you'll bring to your company.

If you think about what sells--all those products that advertisers push as "cool" and "in"--you know that what's hot doesn't always jibe with your values. That's why it's so important to identify your company's core values--the philosophy that guides your company's direction--from the get-go.

Next Step
A good ethics policy should be integrated into your company's culture. Find out how.

Every company has a culture that determines everything from the way you'll handle customer service to the kinds of products or services your company will offer. So how do you convey your company culture?

What Are Your Core Values?
Entrepreneurs can't just talk about values. They have role-model the culture they want reflected in their companies.

That's exactly what Leslie Shoup does. Shoup, 18, owner of Leslie's Xpresly Sportswear in Orrville, Ohio, values customer service above all else. Talking about customer service is fine, but Shoup shows her commitment by staying open late to finish a project on time or personally delivering clothes to customers. "It's our duty to keep customers happy," she says. "We try to get everything to the customer on time--even if it means staying open until midnight."

As the business owner, your influence will be key to creating your company's culture. It will also be nurtured by how your staff models those values on a day-to-day basis. Making sure the business's products or services and its associates stick to those core values takes careful and deliberate planning, not just at the beginning, but throughout the evolution of your company.

That commitment is a top priority for Keisha McDaniel, the 15-year-old owner of Pretty Tomboy Clothing in Las Vegas. By age 10, McDaniel was already 5 feet 5 inches, 160 pounds, and wore boys' clothing because girls' clothing didn't fit her.

That's how the label Pretty Tomboy was created. "We design clothes for the not-so-average girl," McDaniel says of the core values that drive her company. "We want to give athletic girls a choice."

The clothes reflect McDaniel's philosophy: Be yourself or please everyone else. "The average teenager wants to do what everyone else is doing," she says. "But if you do that, you're not being yourself."

Avoiding Temptation
As a company expands, profit motives and new employees can sway young 'treps from the company's philosophy. That's when it's more important than ever for entrepreneurs to stay true to their core values. In the past five years, as McDaniel's business has grown and she's added a few outside designers. She has made it a top priority that her new contract employees both understand and buy into her company's mission.

Like McDaniel, Shoup will continue to emphasize the guiding values of her company as it grows larger. It's these values that will allow both businesses--and businesses that follow their example--to achieve long-term success.

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