Culture

7 Elements of Company Culture That Ensure Your Business Keeps Improving

Are you pushing your company into the future or letting it fall behind the times?
7 Elements of Company Culture That Ensure Your Business Keeps Improving
Image credit: Zero Creatives | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and Angel investor.
4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Many startups and entrepreneurs I advise still default to growing their business via the traditional top-down, order-taking culture. I’m convinced you can’t stay competitive that way with today’s customers and employees. It’s time to insist that the people closest to the customer and the markets learn and make the decisions.

 

I saw strong validation for this approach in a new book, Sense & Respond, by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden. They argue that successful organizations spend more time building and maintaining a leaning culture of listening to customers, enabling their team to make decisions, and creating new products continuously. Here are seven key elements of the culture we both espouse:

1. Accept that you don’t know all the answers. 

Anything you or your team knows about the market today may change tomorrow. Don’t demand or assume immediate and certain answers. Foster a culture of constant dialog with customers, experimentation and multiple pivots required to stay competitive and responsive.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

2. Give the team permission to fail.

Experiments are how we learn, but experiments, by nature, fail frequently. If failure is stigmatized, teams will take fewer risks and your business will fall behind. Practice blameless post-mortems to honestly examine what went well and what should be discontinued.

3. Foster self-direction.

If your mission is clear, and the organization is aligned around it, self-direction takes root and delivers superior solutions. Team members will want to take personal responsibility for quality, creativity, collaboration and learning. You just provide the environment and support for success.

Related: Habits of the World's Wealthiest People (Infographic)

4. Promote honesty.

Never shoot the messenger -- even if you don't like what they have to say -- and don’t forget to listen carefully to the total message before responding. Ask questions without undue emotion, and always focus on the positive or possible solutions. No one learns from a lack of communication or misrepresentation of data.

5. Practice a bias toward action.

Constant debates and re-analyses of data are the enemy in a fast-moving and competitive marketplace. A thriving process culture today assumes that you will be making many small decisions, seeking feedback and evaluating evidence, but always moving forward.

Related: 11 Habits of Truly Happy People 

6. Define customer value as the only path to business value.

Customer empathy is required today to maintain a strong market position in the face of global competition. Everyone, from the CEO to call-center representatives, must have a sense of what your customers are trying to achieve, what’s getting in their way and how you can help them.

7. Build a team culture of collaboration, diversity and trust.

The best teams are smaller, diverse and work in short, iterative cycles. There is no time for lengthy, sequential work with hand-offs between specialists. Now, you need people who have different points of view but trust each other due to social ties to collaborate quickly and create positive resullts.

With these culture elements, organizations today are emerging and thriving based on their improved capacity to sense and respond instantly to customer and employee behaviors. The alternative is another Eastman Kodak, which failed to keep up with the transition from film to digital cameras, or another Blockbuster Video, overrun by Netflix and streaming videos on the internet.

More successful examples include Facebook, which continues to change and lead today, despite assaults from Twitter, Instagram and others; and Tesla Motors, still leading the electric car market despite repeated initiatives from the major auto manufacturers and other upstarts. We will soon see if they can hold that lead in the coming era of totally autonomous vehicles.

These winners, and almost every successful new startup, have successfully established a learning culture that customers and employees can appreciate. But, a cultural transformation doesn’t happen by default; it must be led, even if employees and customers are ready for the change. 

More from Entrepreneur

Grow Your Business at Entrepreneur LIVE! Join us on Nov. 16 in Brooklyn, NY, to learn from legends like Danica Patrick and Maria Sharapova, pitch our editors, meet with investors, and potentially walk away with funding!
Register here

One-on-one online sessions with our experts can help you start a business, grow your business, build your brand, fundraise and more.
Book Your Session

In as little as seven months, the Entrepreneur Authors program will turn your ideas and expertise into a professionally presented book.
Apply Now

Latest on Entrepreneur

My Queue

There are no Videos in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any video to save to your queue.

There are no Articles in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any article to save to your queue.

There are no Podcasts in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any podcast episode to save to your queue.

You're not following any authors.

Click the Follow button on any author page to keep up with the latest content from your favorite authors.