4 Ways to Build a Culture That Supports a Future-Proof Business

How do you create a sustainable, long-term business? Start with your employee culture.

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By Sara Caroline Sabin

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"Maintaining an effective culture is so important that it, in fact, trumps even strategy." This quote from Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson makes me wonder: How many of us have ever worked in a company that truly has a culture that inspires motivation and innovation from employees? The search for such a culture is what many may leave a corporate environment to find. The perception is that it's easier to find such a culture in a startup.

In my experience, that is not always the case. It depends on the leadership and whether they live their culture and encourage their employees to do the same. Simply having a mission statement or corporate values (but acting in a way that contradicts that) is not enough.

The challenge is that the leaders of startups quite often get distracted with other things – day-to-day operations, fundraising, etc., and their employees can fall to the bottom of the list. However, with no proper training and guidance, no chance to really create an impact, you're going to find your employees aren't empowered and will likely end up leaving.

Strong culture leads to consistently motivated employees and can predict current and future financial performance. A study conducted by Daniel R. Denison and Aneil K. Mishra in 1995 showed that culture can be an integral part of the ongoing change process, (all companies are in a constant state of change, and that pace of change continues to accelerate exponentially) and certain positive culture traits can predict an organization's performance and effectiveness.

Related Links: 6 Steps for Creating a Strong Company Culture

How can you build a strong culture? Here are four ideas.

Build a culture of trial and error

In order to compete in a rapidly changing world, a company needs to be able to innovate. No matter how traditional the company, if you cannot innovate, then there is no guarantee that you will still be needed in 10 years from now. We all need to adapt and pivot to the needs of the market. To continuously sustain such innovation, you need a workforce that can support that.

If you have a "blame culture" within an organization, you will not be able to innovate. Your employees will be afraid to try out new ideas or to fail and make mistakes, because they fear the consequences of what might happen if they do.

If, however, you have an environment that makes it clear that ideas and innovation are endemically part of the culture (and in fact expected), this gives employees freedom to innovate. If they make mistakes, they are encouraged to learn from them and keep trying until they hit upon something that does work. We learn more from our mistakes than our successes.

This involves changing the way we appraise our employees.

Related Links: Distance is No Barrier to a Strong Company Culture

Build a company of leaders

Leadership does not have to be reserved for those with the appropriate job title who sit at the top of an organization. Everyone within an organization has the capacity to be a unique leader with their own unique contributions.

Leadership is about taking responsibility for yourself and holding yourself and your team accountable. Each employee has their part to play in driving forward a company vision, which is why it's so important that that vision is clearly communicated.

If an employee feels that their voice matters, that they can really make an impact within the company and contribute to innovation, they will be inspired and motivated. This means more than having a suggestion box — it means that ideas are actively considered and selected by leadership to try out (where appropriate).

Maybe that looks like anyone within the company being able to form a "leadership circle," or perhaps it's a dedicated time every six weeks to brainstorm future ideas for the company.

Invest in learning and development

If you are looking to attract top talent, then you can expect that they will want to continuously learn and develop their skills. Taking the time to understand the kind of training that your employees want and need — and supporting them in that — shows that you care about helping them become better.

This might also involve pushing your employees out of their comfort zones and helping them to develop valuable skills that are technically outside of their core job. For example, you might encourage research scientists to become more creative so that they think differently and come up with more innovative solutions to problems.

Believing in your employees and investing in their potential will be rewarded with more employee loyalty and dedication to positively impacting the company.

Transparency and communication

Authentic communication builds trust. You can sniff out authenticity. You can tell when a leader is being honest and has genuinely positive intentions. Trust is the foundation for all positive relationships. Within a culture, that is no exception.

Clear, open communication builds that sense of camaraderie. That idea that we are all in this together, with one team and one mission, all with a distinct role to play and clear expectations based on our skills and talents. It also makes an employee more comfortable communicating their wants and needs and exploring how that aligns with the company.

Communication is the linchpin that allows the other ideas I've mentioned to become an intrinsic part of the culture of an organization.

We need to be future-intelligent right now when it's so tempting to stay in survival mode. Culture is unique to each organization and each leader, but there are facets of successful companies with strong, positive cultures that you can learn from. If, as a company, you aspire to be around in five years' time, can you afford to ignore culture? Or is it about time that you devoted the space to it?

Related Links: 10 Examples of Companies with Fantastic Cultures

Sara Caroline Sabin

Transformational Leadership & Business Coach

Sara Sabin is an entrepreneur and a transformational coach. Sabin works with leaders who want to make a big impact. She coaches them to shift into their powerful leadership identity, create an empowered team culture and approach business challenges in a unique way to build a thriving business.

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