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In essence, company culture refers to the personality of a business and its work environment. Company culture is specific to an individual organization—but can incorporate the business’s values, mission, and how people interact and work with one another. Building a good company culture can help improve employee satisfaction and productivity, as well as attract the right candidates to fill job openings at your business.
Company culture is a phrase we hear more and more when it comes to business HR, recruiting, and even just general organizational operations. There is no all-encompassing way to define company culture, but more or less it can be described as the personality of a business and can incorporate a variety of different elements of an organization. Company values, how your employee’s interact with one another, how you deal with problems and successes—all of these factors can contribute to your business’s company culture.
Although company culture may seem like an abstract concept, it is, in fact, becoming more and more important to how businesses attract and retain employees. After all, developing the best company culture means your employees are more likely to be happy, enthusiastic, and productive—leading to ultimate success for your entire business.
If you’re starting a new business then, you’ll certainly want to consider how to build and maintain your company culture. On the other hand, if you already have an established business with employees, you may want to consider the culture that exists and how you can develop or improve it. Here, we’ll go through some of the ways you can define, create, and sustain the best company culture to benefit your organization as a whole.
As we mentioned, company culture can be difficult to define, especially as these cultures are specific to individual businesses. However, we can say that company culture incorporates many of the same aspects of general culture: beliefs, values, goals, social interactions, etc. The importance of company culture, therefore, is that it greatly affects the “human element” of your business—the way your business runs, the way employees work within their team, the way people talk to one another, and even how long an employee chooses to work at your company.
Ultimately, then, the goal of company culture is to create a work environment that your employees continuously want to be part of, that new hires are excited about, and that potential candidates will want to join. You want your employees to feel like they understand the company values, missions, and goals—seeing not just how they function in their specific role, but also how they fit into the greater organization as a whole. The right company culture should make your employees feel safe and satisfied at work. They should feel like their manager and coworkers understand and respect them and that they can do their best work while they’re part of your organization.
This being said, there’s not necessarily a right way to shape the best company culture or to decide what you want your culture to be. Part of the culture will inevitably be dictated by the specifics of your individual business—the company culture of a large manufacturer is probably not going to be the same as a local garden shop. Generally, however, you want to facilitate a culture that is purposeful, productive, and positive.
Now that you know a little bit more about what company culture means, you may be wondering how to build it. Although the path may be different for each business, there are a few general steps you can take to create the best company culture for your organization.
What do your employees think about when they think about your business? What defines your business? What does your business strive to do on a day-to-day basis? The values and personality of your organization will naturally shape the environment of your company’s culture, and therefore, it’s important to clearly define these core values and how they will promote the business’s success.
You might decide, for example, that customer service is your business’s most important value. In making this indication, your employees now have a specific idea behind all of the work that they do. Having this purpose in mind then will contribute to how your culture continues to develop. To help you through this process, you might decide to specify a company vision or write a mission statement—doing so will allow you to put words to the personality you want your company to have and give your employee’s a physical resource to refer back to.
Additionally, you’ll want to consider what your company’s goals are. What do you want your business to accomplish on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis? How will your employees contribute to reaching these goals? Defining these goals that adhere to your organization’s values will help shape your employees’ behavior, communication, and attitudes, thereby facilitating the company’s culture.
After you’ve defined these essential elements about your company and have more or less established the kind of culture you’d like to create, it’s time to bring on team members who embody the spirit of your business. Let your culture dictate your recruiting process—write a job description that matches the personality of your company and explains the way your business operates and what is expected of employees working there. When you bring in candidates for interviews, evaluate them not only based on their skills and knowledge but also they’re personality and how they’ll fit in with the culture you’re trying to facilitate.
A good candidate will be someone that can do the job and also shares your company’s values. By consistently keeping company culture in mind when hiring employees, you’ll be able to find the right people to contribute to your business and its atmosphere.
Part of creating a good company culture is putting it into practice, not just theory. Therefore, when you bring on new team members, part of the onboarding process should involve teaching them about your business’s vision, goals, priorities, and what’s expected of them to contribute to the organization’s success. This also means of course, that you should lead by example, showing your employees on a day-to-day basis that you believe in the organization’s values and have crafted a path for them to follow.
Carrie Munson, founder of online “foundation wear” retailer Undersummers by CarrieRae, created a company vision and keeps it at the forefront of every staff meeting. Core tenets of that vision include “Having a sunny, positive attitude and making sure employees maintain a healthy work-life balance.”
How do your business processes function daily? How do employees communicate with each other, among teams, or with leadership? What does collaboration look like? In order to facilitate the best company culture for your employees, you’ll need to answer questions like these. You’ll want to establish methods for how professional communication works, how teams collaborate, and who employees go to when they have questions. By providing your employees with this vital information and facilitating respect and positivity through your processes, you’re more likely to promote a good company culture that affects employee morale and performance.
Along these lines, you’ll also need to decide how you’ll handle conflict, as well as success. Although we all would probably prefer to avoid conflict in the workplace, it’s inevitable that disagreements will occur. How you handle these issues, however, can greatly influence your employees and how your company culture develops. You’ll want to create a protocol for handling problems—considering who will be responsible for dealing with them and how decisions will be made to reach a resolution. It’s worth planning ahead of these kinds of problems, so that everyone knows how to work through them when they arise, instead of avoiding them—your work environment will certainly be the better for it.
On the other hand, it’s just as important to decide how you’ll celebrate the success of your employees. Good employees often quit positions where they don’t feel recognized for their achievements—so celebrating individual success, as well as organizational success, can be helpful to create the best company culture. In terms of these successes, you’ll want to consider what your team might enjoy most to feel valued and motivated. Perhaps free lunches, happy hours, or a volunteer program will make your employees feel valued. Or, maybe they’ll more greatly appreciate a flexible scheduling arrangement. Consider how you can show your appreciation and properly recognize the hard work of your employees in the right way for them and for your business.
Company culture is not something that is simply implemented in a week and then is forgotten—it’s a constant process to facilitate the work environment you desire. After you’ve begun to establish your culture through the process we’ve discussed thus far, you’ll want to develop a long-term plan. How can you further refine company policies and procedures so that they support your desired culture on a long-term basis? How can you work with your employees to improve communication and structure? You’ll want to consider the steps you should continue to take on a day-to-day basis, as well as long term to ensure that your culture continues to progress positively and ultimately, supports your business.
S. Chris Edmonds, author and founder of The Purposeful Culture Group, stresses the importance of being intentional when it comes down to cultivating great company culture. Establishing and nurturing company culture he explains, involves not only defining the desired culture, but aligning all plans, decisions, and actions to match it as well.
As we mentioned, one of the reasons that company culture is so important is because it’s a selling point for potential candidates. You want to find employees who fit within your culture, but the reverse is also true—employees will be looking for a culture that fits with their values. Therefore, once you’ve established your culture and have a plan to continue to improve it, you’ll want to use it as part of your marketing strategy.
You can show off your company culture through business branding—decide what your voice sounds like, what your business website says about your company and employees, how you interact with people on social media, etc. By showing your company culture externally, you’ll be more likely to attract the candidates you want to work for your business.
Even if you already have an established business, with employees, and are just now considering the idea of company culture, doesn’t mean the culture that has developed naturally within your organization is set in stone. In fact, if you want to change your company culture, you can use many of the same steps that we’ve just outlined. If you want to improve your company culture, start by evaluating your company’s personality and values. Write them down; craft a mission statement. Consider what you can do to change your business to reflect these guidelines and start that process.
Unfortunately, as is often the case, change can be slow. However, if you wholeheartedly invest in taking steps to change your company culture, it can certainly be done. Here are some tips to consider:
In a small business, you’re probably wearing many hats and it can be difficult to totally devote yourself to one initiative. However, if you want to improve the existing culture in your organization, it’s going to be best to prioritize culture when you can. Gather a group of employees dedicated to brainstorming company culture ideas and strategies or directly take up the mantel yourself. Whatever the case, change isn’t going to happen unless you make it happen—and therefore, you have to invest time in the process.
Tony Hsieh, founder and CEO of billion-dollar retail operation Zappos, explains in his book, Delivering Happiness, the importance of company culture this way: “If we got the culture right, then building our brand to be about the very best customer service would happen naturally on its own.”
Ultimately, by investing time in improving your company culture now, you’ll be putting your business in a better position in the long run.
There’s no better way to improve your company culture than by positive reinforcement. By recognizing and rewarding those who work hard and demonstrate the values of your business, you’re incentivizing others to follow their lead. Plus, in general, recognition can be an important tool for improving employee morale and productivity, which will also contribute positively to your business’s company culture.
Although you have the ability to choose and form your own company culture, it’s probably safe to say that you’re not looking for a culture of fear, negativity, and discomfort. A culture of that sort, certainly, is not going to inspire employees or facilitate productivity—in fact, the reverse is probably true. Therefore, if you’re looking to improve company culture, you’ll want to think about fostering an environment that is positive and inclusive.
Although your organization is first and foremost, a business, you don’t want to shut out your employees’ personal lives and individuality. If your employees enjoy coming to work, feel welcome, like and respect their coworkers, your culture is going to continue to develop well on its own.
Although building the best company culture is not as clear-cut as many other parts involved with running a business, it’s nevertheless instrumental to your organization’s success. Defining your company culture by identifying your values, goals, and personality—in essence, what’s important to your business—will affect the way your employees work, how you bring on new employees, and how the organization succeeds as a whole.
Even though the details of your company culture, from overarching philosophies, like a mission statement, to specific policies, like work from home, will be unique to your business, you’ll want to strive to create a work environment that is positive, productive, inclusive. There’s no doubt that happiness is a hack for productivity, and therefore, if you can develop a company culture that facilitates happiness, you’ll be well on your way to creating individual and organizational success alike.