The landscape of the corporate world is undergoing a huge paradigm shift. While some companies made the paradigm shift years ago, many more—huge corporations and small businesses alike—are realizing the benefits of developing a defined company culture.
Why is culture even important?
Employees value companies with established cultures that reflect their own values. Talent is drawn to companies with well-developed and meaningful mission statements, opportunities to grow and develop, great co-workers, and challenging (and fulfilling) work. These attributes, centered on the mission statement, directly impact a company’s culture.
Defined and employee-centric cultures increase employee retention by strengthening employees’ loyalty to the company. In companies with strong cultures, everyone from top to bottom believes in the company’s products and brand and feels that they are creating value and contributing to the company overall.
This belief positively affects the quality of employees’ output and their attitudes toward customers—both of which affect the company’s bottom line. In fact, the relationship between culture and employees’ attitude toward customers is reciprocal and creates an upward spiral of awesomeness: taking care of employees improves their attitudes toward customers, and the attitude toward customers influences the atmosphere and culture in the office.
Companies such as Facebook and Google believe in this reciprocal relationship so strongly that they go to great lengths to create atmospheres that foster growth, innovation, and relationship building. They recognize that the costs of fostering such an inviting and fun culture and atmosphere are dwarfed by the inherent benefits.
No matter the size of your company, you can start with a solid, meaningful mission statement. Culture is much more than the occasional company party and free lunches. It’s even more than competitive compensation and benefits packages. Culture is the conscious and unconscious manifestation of what you believe and the principles upon which your company is founded.
If you’re struggling to create a culture, perhaps you need to revisit your mission statement (or create one) and reflect on what your priorities are as a company. Since “money doesn’t just talk — it shouts your priorities through a bullhorn,” a thorough introspection into where you spend and where you cut costs will quickly show you your priorities.
With a clear mission and understanding of why you do what you do, set goals with specific action points to improve the office, relationships, and overall environment. While some culture developments are second nature, most require dedicated effort and planning.
For example, friendly, open, and inviting executives that hire those who can exemplify similar affable traits (but have different skills sets and personalities) naturally create a friendly, open, and inviting work environment. Executives who understand the importance of cultivating ideas and innovation will have an open door policy—not because they know they should or because similar companies do, but because they are naturally open to ideas and realize those ideas can come from anyone.
Some actions do require planning, however, no matter how intuitive you are as a leader. While office layouts, employee perks, community initiatives, and company events are auxiliary to the more important culture aspects such as positively-challenging work and opportunities for growth and development, they do showcase your company culture, so you need to make sure they truly reflect your purpose and mission.
If you buy a set of tee times for your employees or for a department, the act of golfing itself isn’t the company culture. The company culture is “we work hard and we realize that some ideas come out best on the course,” or “we work hard and people shouldn’t be cooped up in an office on a sunny day.” The manifestation of that attitude and culture is in something that everyone in the office (or department) enjoys, such as golfing on a Thursday afternoon.
These physical showcases often cost money and rarely have a direct and obvious influence on your product offering or the bottom line. But wisely creating a meaningful culture will always impact your business in a positive way.
Just remember that the actions themselves, no matter how cool, do not equal culture. The mission and the purpose—the why—have to come first. Otherwise, your culture with be one of disconnect and employees will quickly discern the imbalance.
Creating a culture may be difficult as a small business owner. As touched upon previously, you don’t have the resources available to large corporations and you don’t want to collapse your company by buying a culture. However, the core and fundamental parts of your culture—your mission and creating a fun environment that cultivates growth and innovation—are free. As are many of the ways you show your employees that you care and that you are interested in their lives.
In addition, with a smaller workforce, you have the advantage of creating a close-knit community. Your attitude and the culture you strive to create can filter down to each department more easily without so many tiers to distract and dilute. You are more able to get to know everyone on a personal level, and you can hire people with similar tastes. With this knowledge, you can better cater rewards, parties, and surprises to individuals.
Actions are meaningless if you don’t truly believe your mission. Whether you believe your mission is manifest in where you spend your money. If you’re only concerned with your bottom line and doing everything as cheaply as possible, it will be apparent in your culture.
But if your mission is about people, adding value, and challenging the status quo, your culture will come naturally and you will find budget-friendly ways to build that culture.