4 Foundational Tips for Creating a Viable Company Culture
This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Company Culture, a new book containing insights from more than 20 contributors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.
In the course of running a company, one of the main tasks you'll face is building a culture. A business is only as good as its internal operation. If you're not an HR expert, this can be one of the most challenging aspects of being an entrepreneur. The reason: When the time comes to start bringing on new hands, you may find it extremely difficult to balance a plethora of personalities to work as a single, efficient unit.
A report by Dale Carnegie Training underlined this issue: It found that a collective $11 billion is lost each year in the process of re-hiring, re-training and re-development. The end goal for shaping culture in the workplace should be a professional environment where employees want to stick around for the long haul.
How do you achieve that? Here are four pieces of advice to keep in mind as you're building your own company culture:
1. Lead by example.
Throughout history, one of the most commonly observed characteristics in effective leaders has been their ability to work on the front lines with their subordinates. Theodore Roosevelt's style was a prime example of this idea.
You can demand respect all you want. But to actually earn it, you need to project a mentality conveying the message that no task is "beneath" you and that you wouldn't make anyone do something in which you wouldn't do yourself.
In addition to exhibiting the "fearless leader" mindset, there are an array of small habits you should get into. For example, make it a point to be the first one to arrive at work. If you consistently show up late, you are basically condoning others to do the same.
The takeaway: Your company culture is an extension of your own ethics and professional image. You are a living, breathing model for what your brand should exemplify.
2. Make smart hires.
You can do only so much to shape a professional culture on your own. The people you choose to surround yourself with will play a huge role in how the company operates. For this reason, be picky about whom you bring on board.
During the interview stage, your goal should be to gauge the candidate's long-term vision and professional mentality. Truth be told, coming up with answers to those classic interview questions isn't terribly difficult. This is why it can be beneficial for you to ask more off-beat questions, where the answers will yield information about who the candidate is as a real person.
Zappos prides itself on hiring talent in line with its cultural expectations. The company knows that when candidates fit in with its personal and professional environment, operations will run more smoothly both inside and out.
Ask candidates about their hobbies outside of work. If they have any that provide a stream of income, this shows they are valuable on multiple levels and have a "go-getter" mindset.
Another good topic is the candidate's life as a student. As many people know, college is an incredibly chaotic time when young developing professionals must perform in the classroom, make money and maintain a social life. Ask about what this person did did to prioritize and execute tasks during college. Did he or she pay attention to health? What were some of the most valuable lessons this person walked away with?
The takeaway: The people you hire should embody what you want the culture to be. Learning how they manage their day-to-day life is a building block for a high-performing operation.
3. Embrace feedback.
It's no secret that the top-down management style doesn't resonate well in today's workplace. As a solo entrepreneur, you have most likely grown used to your own way of doing things. However, when you start involving more people, you must be open-minded to what they have to say. Just because it's your business doesn't make other ideas irrelevant.
Soliciting regular feedback from employees is critical to advance a culture. Carnival Corporation recommends keeping this process simple and transparent across the board.
Great leaders listen and facilitate. Try introducing feedback forms or set aside an hour every month to discuss how things are going. The objective should be to identify bottlenecks and find the best ways to solve issues.
The takeaway: A company culture is not something that is set in stone. It's a constantly developing entity which can change by the day. This is why you must emphasize the importance of checking in, and encourage people to be honest about the company's direction.
4. Celebrate victories.
Everyone likes to feel appreciated. When, as leader, you tie individual accomplishments to the big picture, employees gain a sense of purpose and gratification that their efforts are paying off.
If the company had a great quarter, month or even week, show your appreciation. Buy everyone lunch on Friday, sponsor a company happy hour, host a party, etc. By constantly giving employees something to look forward to, you'll be motivating people to do their best work.
The takeaway: A company culture isn't grown just inside the office during business hours. Hosting events in celebration of good performance is one of the best ways to keep morale up.
Think of your company culture as the foundation of a house. If it's poorly designed and executed, one bad storm could cause the entire building to crumble.It's important to note that creating a healthy work environment doesn't happen overnight. Everything starts at the top (you) and flows downward. As a leader, it's your responsibility to promote a prevailing mindset in which employees can prosper.