Does Your Company Culture Match Your Brand?
This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Strategic Management, a new book containing insights from more than 20 contributors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.
A recent article published by Racked takes a hard look at Thinx and the company's inability to deliver the same type of culture to its employees as it does its consumers. Specifically, the piece says Thinx's goal to create "a feminist utopia for everyone" fell short when it came to the most important audience: its team.
The challenges of building a thriving workplace environment while at the same time growing a business are daunting, but it can be done. Here are four ways to ensure that your employee culture is as strong as you advertise it to be:
1. Create and review a company culture deck.
A culture deck is, simply put, a series of slides that outline how your team behaves. It can be a list of must-do's, a list of non-acceptable behavior or a combination of the two. Think of the culture deck as arguably the most important document ever to come out of your organization. While a business plan is likely to sometimes radically change as your company grows and adapts to its customers, a culture deck should be subtly refined, but rarely -- if ever -- overhauled. Why? Because your culture represents the company's values, and these should be non-negotiable.
The most effective culture decks can be read in a few minutes and are written as direct as possible to leave little room for misinterpretation. A culture deck also should be something your organization is proud of and is front and center for all to see (employees, clients, the public, etc.). Transparency with your cultural values acts as the ultimate accountability partner for everyone. It's OK for a business in its infancy to draft a culture deck that is aspirational; however, it must quickly be an accurate reflection of your business.
2. Make sure your values are for your team and your team alone.
In a sea of business ideas, it's hard to survive, yet alone differentiate and grow. As most businesses struggle to find an audience and generate attention, it's tempting to think of your culture as a conduit to reach the masses. After all, company culture is a trendy and often discussed topic. Some companies, such as Google and Zappos, have a seemingly never-ending parade of glowing articles written about their very contemporary workplace philosophies. It can be very tempting to build a culture around the latest catchphrases to drum up press and capture the eye of job seekers. When companies do this, it can frequently backfire. Generate a culture deck for political capital alone, and it will quickly vanish as no one will ever adhere to it. A culture deck is a promise; it's an obligation for the entire company to uphold itself to the highest of standards.
3. Develop a vehicle to deliver employee feedback.
How do you know when there's a problem with your culture? You don't -- unless you build strong connection points with your team. As an organization scales and employee count increases, it becomes increasingly difficult for a leader to have an accurate pulse on culture and morale. This becomes a particularly arduous task for the leader who has no mechanisms developed to communicate regularly with his or her team.
Perhaps the best approach to obtain feedback is the diversified one. Start with one-on-one meetings with each team member. Gone should be the days of the annual performance review, the one time a year where management and employees take stock of the last 12 month's worth of work, emotions and goals – all packaged neatly in a 45-minute conversation. You and each of your leaders should have regular and open communication throughout the year. When done properly, any inklings of cultural malcontent can be identified early before spreading uncontrollably.
In conjunction with one-on-ones, another effective way of staying connected to your team is to set up regular interaction points with them. Town hall meetings, social activities and team-building events can all prove to be opportunities to not only gel your team, but also to obtain valuable feedback on the level of happiness from your team.
4. Be a "Level 5" leader.
In Good to Great, author Jim Collins introduces the concept of the "Level 5" leader. This most rare and impactful of all leaders looks in the mirror when things go wrong and out the window when things go right. All companies are a product of the hard work and efforts of everyone involved. In fact, the best companies are able to generate more from the sum of its parts than should be possible through basic arithmetic. This can only exist when the leaders at the top share or even deflect the spotlight to their teams. A great company culture is all inclusive to its employees, and when the leader basks in his own glory for too long, the unraveling of the culture begins.
Developing and maintaining a great employee culture should be atop the priority list for any leader worth his or her salt. One of the most challenging tests of leadership is turning around a struggling culture. Take action on the items above before allowing your culture to veer off course.