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8 Ways to Define Your Company Culture

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Summary: How can you define your company culture or fix it if it’s broken? Find out in this article.

Learn how to properly define your company culture so your next meeting doesn’t end like this.
 
  • It is said in life that all a person has is their name and reputation.
  • In business, all a company has its reputation and its culture, which is of particular importance.
  • This article highlights how managers and business owners develop company cultures, or fix an existing culture that is in disrepair.

The importance of an operations-wide culture is crucial to a business’ day-to-day operations. A company’s culture is as much a brand in and of itself, as it is an eight-hour (or more) lifestyle from Monday through Friday. In short, company cultures provide insight into the overall behavior of a business.

For example, if a marketing firm is regarded as aggressive or innovative, then naturally the same type-A personalities will be expected from the company’s employees and how they interact with each other. This can also be said of more passive companies where the employees and management tend to be easier going and permissive. In short, whether older, serious and established or kinder, gentler and playful, these aspects define a business both to its customers and employees.

How do companies establish a customer culture?

A company’s culture is established through how it handles itself, its customers and its business affairs. Of course, all of this has to be built up over time; people will have to know and understand what your company is, what you produce, and how well (or not) you deal with customers. This is the foundation of a business or company culture. Sure, the marketing department may believe more spin needs to be put into whatever the company is about, but overall, a company’s culture lies as much with its customers as its employees.

The following is a list of influencers that can affect how customers think of your business. These can initiate your company’s culture:
 
  • Responsiveness
  • Friendliness
  • Attention to detail
  • Fairness
  • Accessibility
These are just a handful of initiators that can hold sway over what people will know of your business. If you and your workers are responsive, friendly, provide great attention to detail, and are fair and accessible, then the chances are your company will adopt a customer facing culture that is very positive. In the end, this will help drive more success your direction.

How do companies establish an internal culture?

A company’s culture is established as much from the inside with its employees, managers and owners as it is from the outside with its customers. In fact, there can be very little differentiation from a customer and an employee at this juncture.

To be certain, internal workers have access to as much social media firepower as a customer. Given this, a disgruntled employee can have as much influence as a customer. They only need to post a message or two online, and like a rock, a business’s production can fall instantly.

But in that same thought, employees are nothing like customers. While customers come and go, some staying loyal to your brand as others simply wanting to try your product out and move on, what you really need to do with your employees is make sure they are satisfied. Employees are a whole different target from customers. As a manager, you have a greater investment in your employees, as do they for you.

Your employees expect more from you, such as:
 
  • A reasonable work-life balance
  • Health and dental insurance
  • A profit sharing program
  • A reasonable workload
  • A reasonable schedule
  • Respect, and sometimes a little off-the-job fun

These aren’t unapproachable ideologies for a decent business owner or manager. Nonetheless, they are a starting point from which business managers and owners can begin to focus on their company’s culture.

8 Ways to Define Your Company Culture

Your company’s culture is your identifier. It reveals to customers and workers alike what sort of establishment your company is.

A company’s culture can be anything from free and easy, such as those cultures within:
 
  • Internet companies
  • Software and app developers
  • Certain car companies (depending upon the vehicle)
  • Advertising and marketing companies.

…to more serious and stoic company cultures, such as those within:
 
  • Law firms
  • Investment houses
  • Life, auto and home insurance companies
  • Pharmaceutical companies

Of course, there are established companies that still don’t have a culture or identity. As hard as this is to imagine, some companies produce such innocuous products, or work on such everyday customer-needed tasks, that honestly, whether they are fun loving establishments or drab majesties, their company culture means little to the consumer. An example of this could be a utility company.

However, for those companies who want to establish a culture, Entrepreneur’s website offers some very fine advice in their article, The 8 Essential Steps to Building a Winning Company Culture:

8 Essential Steps to Building a Winning Company Culture

1. Learn from the past.

We all have experiences from which we can draw valuable lessons. If you’re a first-time founder, examine the corporate cultures of organizations you worked for previously. What worked for you in those cultures? What didn’t? Similarly, if you’re a seasoned entrepreneur, think about the cultures you already created. What cultivated success?

2. Create a culture that aligns with your core values.

This is your business. You’re driving it, and you need to infuse who you are into what you do, while also recognizing the character traits of your employees. Think about your personality and, more importantly, your core values. Then compare those to the personalities and values of those who work for you. Are you ingeniously innovative or unwittingly creative? Do you foster a work hard, play hard mentality? Are you relaxed but also expect the best from people? If so, create that balance of work and play. Are you a true collaborator? Then advance that behavior in your company and promote the people who get it. Do you expect the Disney level of customer service from everyone in every position? Then hire people who display that spark, smile, and personality.

Take time to reflect on who you are, the vibe you want to radiate, and, ultimately, the kind of culture that fits both you and your brand.

3. Find great people who complement you.

Round out your corporate culture by hiring people who offer different experiences than yours. Identify your strengths and weaknesses, and then fill in the gaps.

For example, if you are an amazing innovator but fall short when it comes to running the numbers, bring in a savvy financial officer. If you are a risk taker, hire someone who is more conservative. Diverse perspectives grounded in a shared vision are worth their weight in gold. Again, just be sure not to sacrifice your core values.

4. Communicate.

One of Zappos's 10 core values is, “Build open and honest relationships with communication.” Founder Tony Hsieh exemplified this value when he announced Amazon’s $850 million acquisition of Zappos in an open letter to employees in 2009. The company continues to thrive, as does its coveted culture.

So when developing culture, talk with each other. This might sound trite, but it’s easier said than done. People need to be able to share their ideas and speak openly without fear of repercussion. People want their opinions heard, and they want to feel good.

5. Have fun.

It’s simple: a little fun goes a long way. Granted, this looks different for every business. A tech company can get away with more fun than perhaps a law firm or hospital. But there are ways to engage employees in activities that feel less like work. For example, declare half-day Fridays during the summer, take your team indoor rock climbing, go to a wine tasting after work hours or hold a contest. Just do something out of context and give people the freedom to relax, show up in a different way and have fun.

6. Invite people to drink the Kool-Aid.

Bottom line, everyone needs to be a believer. If you don’t stand for anything, you stand for nothing.

When JetBlue hires new crewmembers, the company invites them and their spouses to JetBlue University for orientation in Orlando. They introduce guests to top leadership, show brand videos, share stories, fly simulators and wine and dine them. In other words, they invite them to drink the “blue juice.” And it works. JetBlue’s annual net profit rose from $58 million in 2009 to $168 million in 2013. As Henry Harteveldt, a senior analyst at Hudson Crossing, points out, “The airline succeeds because it places such great emphasis on internal communications and creating and sustaining a positive work environment.”

7. Work as a team.

You should not think of people in terms of “employees” or “departments.” You’re all part of the same team, so act like it. Rallying around the idea “we’re all in this together” builds a sense of unity and community, which fosters culture.

The best people are team players who truly support the company, its founders, management and co-workers.

8. Maintain and carefully evolve your culture.

Culture is not something you put in place and expect to stay the same forever. It takes work. You need to nurture it. You also need to give it the freedom to evolve. If you cling too tightly to your culture, you risk smothering it. Protect it, yes, but understand that your culture will shrink and swell – and that’s okay so long as it maintains its core.

Also, evaluate people on your team against the backdrop of your culture. Effectively evolving your corporate culture sometimes requires making hard decisions to let go of people who don’t evolve with it.

What if your company’s culture is simply all wrong?

At times, a company can give off the wrong type of culture. This is when that culture needs to be broken down and reestablished to garner more positive feedback from both clients as well as employees.

Inc.com offers 6 steps that can help companies repair a culture that either isn’t compatible with the way a company wants to be represented to customers and workers, or a culture that has been damaged during a company’s existence. Keep reading to find out what these six steps are.

6 Steps to Repairing Your Broken Company Culture

1. Rebuild with best principles in mind, not just best practices.

When you rebuild a culture, you have to figure out exactly what kind of fuel you need before planning specific activities. This means focusing on principles, not practices. Take the time to identify your organization's DNA. Honestly evaluate who you are. Figure out what it is about your product or service that will inspire the type of employees you want (besides a paycheck), and write down your company values.

Once your values are in place, clearly and accurately define your mission and vision statements (a mission statement explains your reason for existing and a vision statement describes who you want to eventually become). Setting these principles in place establishes a firm foundation for the rest of your culture.

2. Stay humble and open. 

Rebuilding a culture is hard; there are no two ways about it. And it requires everyone to be better, beginning with leaders. When your company culture goes bad—just like when your car breaks down—it can be embarrassing. When it happens, leadership has to show genuine humility, acknowledging any shortcomings and being honest about the organization's failings. Otherwise, how can you learn from prior mistakes? A simple email or speech at a company meeting from the CEO might be all it takes, but it has to be sincere and heartfelt. And it must be followed up with consistent actions that prove they meant it.

From there, you must strive for better and more open communication throughout the company. Culture should be discussed on a regular basis. Employee's opinions should be considered when making major culture changes, whether they come from performance reviews or surveys or conversation (or overheard chatter in the break room). In the end, everybody on the team should feel like they were part of the culture overhaul. It needs to feel like a team project. Not only will this ensure that everyone is on board, but everyone will know exactly what is expected of them.

3. Rip and replace. 

When fixing a broken culture, you can't always afford to spend your time tweaking failed strategies and initiatives. Sometimes you need to find the elements of your organization that aren't working, and simply eliminate them. Rip them out of the fabric of your company and replace them entirely.

For example, you might have a rewards program that your sales team has never been satisfied with. Instead of band-aiding the problem by throwing money at it, you might consider scrapping the whole thing altogether and starting from scratch. Dig deep and figure out what exactly motivates your team--not just financially, but psychologically as well.

Sometimes the thing that needs replaced is a member of your staff. Obviously, this is an especially hard thing to do. But if you've defined your mission, vision and values and still have staff members who refuse to comply to those critical building blocks of your organization, it's best for you (and frankly, for them as well) to let go and move on. Your team needs to be united, or past failures will continue to creep into the culture and ruin your best intentions.

4. Implement your values into regular activities. 

The values you define for your organization will mean nothing if you don't intertwine them into everyday work. Otherwise, your culture will evolve on its own, and whether it continues to match your values or not will be a tossup. Start by finding ways to incorporate your values into the following activities:
 
  • One-on-ones - It will be a lot easier for managers to know how to manage their employees when they can use company values as a guide. For example, let's say an employee is having a hard time getting to work on time, and one of your values is "Be dependable." Rather than saying, "You're tardy and I'm sick of it," a manager can refer to the value and set goals with the employee to achieve it.
  • Company meetings - By discussing company values with everyone, not only can you ensure the whole company is on the same page, but you can also stress to the whole team just how important your values are. This is also a good time to educate your people about your mission and vision. As soon as an employee loses sight of the why, the how and what will start to suffer too.
  • Recruiting efforts - Most companies try to recruit for culture fits, but being a culture fit is more than just sharing similar personalities or interests with current employees. It's about sharing common values. By gauging candidates on their values, you'll be able to find the right people and, perhaps equally important, weed out those who would become thorns in the workplace.

5. Use the right technologies to jumpstart your efforts.

You have a product or service that you provide, so sometimes it can be difficult to spend the amount of time you'd like to improve your culture. With the help of technology you can automate time-consuming tasks and free yourself to work on culture.

For example, there are onboarding automation tools that allow you to spend less time doing paperwork on first days and more time initiating people into your culture. There are also performance management tools that are turning traditional performance reviews on their heads, making them more useful in quickly identifying employees who are hurting the culture and giving direction on how to get them back on board.

6. Keep your eye on the fuel gauge.

Just like a car, your culture will need constant fuel to thrive. Don't look at rebuilding (or building or improving) your culture like it's an ad hoc project--because it's not. Maintaining a great culture is a process that requires constant attention and care. You just have to always be honest with yourself and be prepared to make the necessary improvements, whether you're broken down on the side of the road, or merely looking to speed up the journey to your ultimate goal.

Conclusion

All a person has is their identity and reputation. Much of the same conclusions are true of any establishment that calls itself a business. Businesses are held together by their company culture. Company cultures serve as a business’s foundation, glue and most importantly, their reputation.

As a manager or business owner, it is imperative that you take a good, long critical look at your company’s culture, and decide if it is representative of what you feel your company is or should be. If it is, great! If not, you have some work ahead of you as well as everyone who works for you.

Remember, all you have is your identity, which you will want to be accurate and descriptive of who you are within your position as a manager or owner, and your company’s position within its industry. Ignore or disregard your company culture altogether, and the next aspect of your business that will suffer will more likely be your reputation.

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