You’ve got your marketing on point. Your customer service is among the best. Sales are on track for a standout year, and you’ve got a highly skilled team in place to help you keep the business running smoothly. But wait, there’s one thing missing from this ideal scenario, and it’s the one thing that could make or break your business—your company’s culture.
Company culture goes well beyond the mission and vision. It even goes beyond the ping pong tables, video game rooms and in-house chefs—all those extravagant lengths major tech companies go through to create a “culture of cool” at the workplace. While the mission, vision and fun perks matter, a strong culture is much more than that, and it’s vitally important to a company’s success and longevity.
Even if you’re a small, but mighty team of two still working to get the marketing, strategy and people into place, it’s not too early to be thinking about the type of culture you want to create.
In fact, culture is an overriding factor in how a major portion of today’s workforce, and nearly every millennial, chooses the companies they work for and how most customers choose which brands they do business with. But what exactly is culture, how does it differ from a company’s mission and vision, and how does it truly impact the success of a business?
What Is/Isn’t Culture
Company culture is, in essence, your company’s DNA. It’s not something the people who work for you bring into the organization. It is pre-existing, even if you’re an operation of one. This culture is inherently shaped by your vision, values, purpose and beliefs, and it is something everyone you do business with (customers, partners and vendors) feel.
A strong company culture creates an environment of trust and teamwork. It motivates employees to invest their energy, and pulls customers to do business with you. In this environment, competition does not exist. Instead, the focus is on collaboration, transparency, clearly expressed expectations and sincere acknowledgements. It all starts from the top down with leadership.
When culture is underpinned by a deep-rooted purpose, it keeps employees engaged, connected and committed. They are bought into your company’s vision and are highly motivated to help make sure that vision is fulfilled. Isn’t that powerful—employees who don’t just show up to work to get a paycheck, but actually show up with passion? You may be wondering how you build a strong culture, and it starts by understanding why you do what you do, what you value and what you want to be known for.
Identify Vision and Purpose
Vision is defined as a vivid, imaginative concept or anticipation of that which will come. In the case of your business, it’s a look into the future and where you want it to be. As such, it should be a clear, laser-focused picture that motivates you and your employees.
On the other hand, purpose is why you do what you do. Beyond making money or being your own boss, why does your company exist? What motivated you to start your business? Purpose is more outward-focused, expressing how your company impacts the lives of all its stakeholders, including: employees, customers, partners, etc. How does your company impact all those you serve? In essence, your purpose is what you do for someone else, and the reason behind it.
This statement should inspire and motivate your team. It should be deeply felt and be able to connect with the head and the heart. While it’s different than your vision, it will certainly align with it.
The online marketplace Etsy is a shining example of a strong purpose. It explains, “Our mission is to reimagine commerce in ways that build a more fulfilling and lasting world.” This purpose brings authenticity and deeper meaning to all those involved, and it’s what makes Etsy so much more than a platform for transactional business where you can search for and purchase products.
Together, vision and purpose become your company’s North Star and will greatly impact who you choose to do business with, the products you select, the types of clients you want to serve, and most importantly, the kind of culture you create.
Define Core Values
Core values go beyond cookie-cutter, customer-service oriented statements. They are the fundamental beliefs of the organization, and they become values upon which you grade and assess everything. They help guide every decision from hiring and firing to new business opportunities to partnerships.
Coca-Cola described it well when they said core values serve as a behavioral compass. Every company approaches core values differently, but a good rule of thumb is to create four to 10 simply stated beliefs, keeping each to no more than six words. For example, Zappos has a list of 10, some of which include:
- Deliver WOW through service;
- Embrace and drive change;
- Create fun and a little weirdness,
- Be adventurous, creative and open-minded;
- Pursue growth and learning;
- Build open and honest relationships with communication;
- Build a positive team and family spirit;
- Do more with less;
- Be passionate and determined; and
- Be humble.
Zappos is a company with a strong culture. It’s how they get their workforce excited about customer service. They also hire first and foremost for culture, and the founder has even written a book about it.
At the company I work for we have four values, including:
- Anticipate the need;
- Be the challenger;
- Act with confidence, courage and constancy; and
- Have heart.
We use these to evaluate employees and even potential new clients to determine if they are truly the right fit for our organization.
Create a Recognition Program
We all want to be recognized for our efforts, but so many company leaders miss this small, but highly impactful part of team motivation. Recognition can come in the form of simple, but genuine acknowledgments of a job well done or weekly “celebrations” in which employees are recognized in an e-mail to the entire team or at a team meeting.
Don’t just limit recognitions to task-related achievements. Rather, use this as an opportunity to drive home your core values and purpose. Every time an employee demonstrates a core value, recognize them in front of the entire team. This serves two purposes: it underscores the company’s commitment to these core values, and it motivates them and other employees to uphold them through their actions.
Recognition can also go beyond simple shout outs. For example, the event-marketing and talent-staffing PUSH Agency recognizes employees as rock stars of the month. They get their picture on an album cover, which remains on the wall in their conference room, and get a signing bonus. They treat the whole event as celebration. It builds a lot of excitement, comradery and motivation among the team.
Build Opportunities for Enrichment
Giving employees opportunities to develop or grow themselves not only shows that you value them, it also deepens their commitment to the company and enriches their experience there. These opportunities could come in the form of ongoing education or getting involved in serving the community.
Some companies offer a stipend for continued education classes or attending industry conferences. Others develop their own curriculum for training. While the training may be required, some “gamify” it, giving badges or certifications to employees who complete each stage of the training. You might even consider creating a point system around it in which employees earn points based on the advanced education they pursue. For instance, our company assigns point values to attending conferences, reading industry books and taking courses (bonus points if they write a post about it for the company blog). As points accumulate (they also get points for demonstrating core values), they can use them to buy days off or add multipliers to bonuses.
Another way to support employee development, while also doing some good is to provide opportunities to volunteer or give at the company level. You might even consider letting your employees select the nonprofit to support. Doing so shows you value what they care about. Or you could even work together as a team to build a fundraiser or volunteer event. The PUSH Agency referenced earlier puts together an annual holiday fundraiser soirée and has employees spearhead each component of it. This ties them to something deeper, and they feel good about the work they’re doing at the company.
Take Your Time
The most important thing to keep in mind is culture takes time to build. It can’t just be set and forgotten about. It has to be woven into the fabric of the company. Every new hire should be evaluated on whether or not they will be a cultural fit. Do they align with your core values? Are employees working every day towards serving a deeper purpose, and are they being recognized for their contributions?
Determine what makes your brand and your team exceptional, what your deeper purpose is, and what you want to be known for, and use that as the starting point for building the culture you want to create in your business.
When an employee demonstrates a core value, recognize them.