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Community Is the Best Company Culture Cultures force employees to conform to rules -- both implicit and explicit -- which breed alienation. To foster inclusivity, build a community guided by shared values.

By Matt Cronin Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Entrepreneurs love to talk about how great their company cultures are, but the best businesses don't push culture -- they build communities.

Creating culture means devising certain ideals for the workplace and expecting employees to conform to the rules (written and unwritten) that make up that culture. But putting rules before people is the quickest way to make the participants within the culture feel isolated.

Communities, on the other hand, can adapt and evolve because they're guided by values rather than rules and have the flexibility to reflect the personalities and interests of their members in ways cultures cannot.

At House of Kaizen, we pride ourselves on being a great place to work. And we've seen our workforce change from a group of young, no-strings starters to a community including many working parents. Every business started by and including many young people reaches this crossroad.

A culture focused on meeting the needs of young singles solely committed to career development would have made our new parents feel alienated or unwelcome, but our community allowed us to adapt to accommodate the lifestyles of both groups so they could continue to thrive under the same roof.

Building a community requires a goal-oriented, human-centric mindset. To shed the culture label and become a real community, follow these six strategies.

1. Create and consistently consider core values.

Without values, there is no culture, so create core values people actually believe in. If you do, you'll know your employees share a common vision with the company and with one another. But it's not enough just to create them. Values are dynamic, so constantly reflect on why the company exists and why employees and customers want to be part of it. Consider what role employees play in developing the company's purpose.

Related: The Key to Rapid Scale? Authentic Core Values

2. Hire for values.

I don't ask about experience and credentials when I conduct interviews; everyone has been vetted by that point. Instead, I ask prospective employees what gets them out of bed every day, what significant life challenges have shaped them and what makes them feel accomplished. Their core motivations are clues to what kind of employees they will be.

At House of Kaizen, we believe in the benefits of intellectual curiosity. That belief creates constant improvement in our company and the work we do for our clients. Tasty Catering in Chicago, for example, emphasizes that everyone has a say in how the company operates. Its employees are highly engaged and alert to ways to make the company better.

3. Address values violations individually.

Don't let the behaviors of outliers dictate the rules for all. Too many organizations use "progressive discipline," which puts the onus on employees to improve by treating them progressively worse when they require correction. Although that style of discipline is designed to hold up in court, performance counseling is also legally viable. In that style, managers communicate specific issues, define root problems and state the impacts of those problems. Take that route instead of the negative alternative.

Related: Seven Steps to Coaching Your Employees to Success

4. Give responsibilities, not tasks.

Responsibility is based on ownership and objectives. When people own their goals, they think about achieving them differently -- that is, with more passion -- than they would mere tasks on their to-do lists. Bridgeway Capital Management in Houston, for example, structures meetings as "fishbowls." Decision-making there is shared and extends to the company's overarching goals, and its unique process keeps employees actively thinking about how to improve because companywide improvement has become their joint responsibility.

5. Turn that well-known cliché on its head.

In building culture, the destination is the reward, not the journey. Think less about the process that leads to success and more about the people who will get the company there. Create opportunities for employees to have clear goals, arsenals of useful tools and intelligent co-workers to achieve better results more quickly. If they have those tools and goals, then they'll feel they're part of something important.

Don't be a slave to "culture." Communities are more powerful and effective because they are driven by the people within them. A great community accepts people with the right mindset and doesn't expect anyone to pretend to be someone else, and building one is within your reach.

Related: Great Employees Don't Work Just for Pay. They Need Much More.

Matt Cronin

Founding Partner at House of Kaizen

Matt Cronin, a founding partner at New York-based House of Kaizen, is a pioneer in digital performance marketing and brand management, having joined the movement more than 15 years ago. He has devoted his career to building innovations, teams, processes and agency services that deliver on their promise of marketing ROI and competitive advantage.

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