Company culture is a topic that’s been often explored by entrepreneurs and business analysts, but I fear there is a heavily circulated misconception about what company culture is, what it matters, and most importantly -- how to create a successful one.
When someone mentions company culture, at least in a modern setting, you’re liable to think about Google or Zappos or any other tech startup that treats its workers really well. You might think about free snacks in the workplace, esoteric furniture, ping pong tables in the break room and almost offensively casual dress codes that have come to define a millennial startup culture.
Here’s the thing: This is only one specific type of company culture, and while it works very well for these companies, it doesn’t work well for every company. Trying to improve your company culture by adopting more relaxed standards and introducing more fun into the workplace might work -- but it might not.
That’s because the real key to a successful company culture isn’t about any one set of strategies. Instead, it’s about one pivotal rule for building a culture that can last -- consistency.
1. Why consistency is the only rule you need to follow.
There are some cultural rules that are fundamental to creating a healthy office environment -- for example, it’s universally bad (and potentially illegal) to publicly berate or humiliate your employees or to ignore workplace complaints. But beyond those common-sense rules, there’s very little that makes any one company culture inherently better than another.
Google’s relaxed standards and high-degree of freedom are useful because it’s a company founded on generating new ideas and solving problems creatively. These cultural standards may not apply to a manufacturing company or a professional roofer.
What really matters, then, isn’t what cultural standards you set but rather the fact that you set them and stick with them over a long period of time. As I’ll illustrate in the following sections, consistency is what’s going to help you reap the benefits of company culture -- no matter what kind of culture you want to create.
2. Employee expectations
First, understand that consistency is the only way to set reasonable employee expectations. If, one day, you encourage all your employees to take breaks at their leisure, but on another day you reprimand a worker for being gone too long at lunch, your workers won’t know how to react in the future. They may err on the side of caution by taking fewer breaks, but deep down, they won’t know what it is you really want from them.
On the other hand, if you’re consistently strict with the procedure for taking breaks, all your employees will be on the same page. There will be fewer miscommunications, and soon everyone will know what to expect when taking an action.
3. Employee satisfaction
Consistency also leads to higher rates of employee satisfaction. If you’re inconsistent in the rules and standards you set, your employees may end up feeling confused, that your organization lacks direction and may find themselves unsure whether they really fit in with the culture.
For example, some workers may prefer open conversation within an office environment, while others prefer to keep to themselves. If you go back and forth in encouraging or discouraging these open conversations, both types of worker will feel uncertain about their place in your company. By landing on one side, you may alienate one type of worker -- but that worker probably doesn’t fit in your organization anyway. The other will feel more satisfied and more at home in your employ, especially as time goes on.
4. Finding the right employees
Consistency in company culture is also useful in finding the right employees to begin with. If you advertise your company culture accurately and have a historical track record of maintaining that company culture, you’ll be far more likely to attract employees who naturally fit in with such an environment. As you introduce more workers who naturally fit your culture, your culture will be naturally more consistent and easier to maintain, increasing the longevity of your program and ultimately making less work for you as the figurehead and cultural director of the company.
When it comes to deciding what type of culture to adopt, there’s isn’t much help I -- or anyone else -- can give you. Your organization is unique, with a unique brand, unique mission, unique location, unique customer base and unique group of people. Look to other companies for inspiration, talk to your current or prospective team members, and most importantly, ask yourself what type of company you want to build.
As long as you treat people with respect and remain consistent in whatever company culture you end up choosing, you should have no trouble making your organization tighter, more efficient and more satisfied overall.