Spend any amount of time reading articles or listening to people talk about owning a business, and a phrase you’re bound to hear come up an awful lot is “corporate culture.”
Google spends a fortune on theirs. Business experts — you know, the kind that wear t-shirts with blazers and give lengthy TED talks — will tell you that you need a good one to keep your employees around. Studies have been done on the sort of effect it can have.
So what is company culture, exactly?
The most exciting thing about corporate culture is maybe the most frustrating thing: there’s no hard-and-fast way to define it.
It’s the vibe of the room and the way your team interacts with one another. It’s how you celebrate victories, large and small, and how you drive innovation and maintain morale.
All of which are things any small business owner should rightly want for their team. Nobody, not even the bosses and higher-ups, wants a quiet, disciplined workforce where everyone just shows up, shuts up, and puts up until it’s time to clock out, and maintaining a strong corporate culture has been proven to have long-term benefits for companies of every size.
Above and beyond keeping everyone in a good mood through the day, a strong corporate culture is invaluable for defining what your company is at its very core. A well-defined and positive company culture sets the tone for how your company interacts with clients, suppliers, and the outside world at large. It helps attract the right kind of talent, the right kind of client, and the right reputation to help expose you to bigger and better opportunities as you grow.
Whatever it is you do, whatever size your team is, whatever it is you want to achieve in the world of business, corporate culture is crucial for the success of your business and the welfare of your employees — so long as you’ve got a good one in place.
How do I foster the right corporate culture?
There’s no hard-and-fast way to develop a corporate culture, particularly for smaller businesses. It’s a delicate combination of things running through every aspect of your business, from staffing to communication styles. Fortune 500 companies have a hard enough time refining their cultures, so trying to foster a company culture with a team of less than a dozen people might seem a little intimidating.
There are, however, things you can do to help develop and refine your culture until it becomes an ingrained part of anything your business does.
Begin by establishing your company’s core values.
A great way to do this is to establish a set of values. To figure out what your company stands for, talk to your earliest employees to set mutual goals and learn more about what they value in an employer.
If you’re flying solo, make a list (yes, an actual list) of priorities and guidelines for how to conduct business both internally and externally. Make sure to communicate these ideals to every single person that works with you going forward.
Lead by example to put it into action.
All the fancy mission statements in the world aren’t going to do much good if your employees don’t see it in action. The most powerful way to communicate your ideal company culture is to epitomize your vision.
Interact with customers the way you want your team to. Collaborate with them openly and frequently. Provide a living example of how you want your people coming together to solve problems and they will follow suit.
Show up early to meetings, stay out on the floor, and get your hands dirty teaching new employees their role. Doing so will set the tone and pace for your employees and communicate the team dynamic you would like to foster at your organization.
Foster the right environment by hiring according to these values.
Establishing a culture for your company means ensuring everyone is on the same page. The easiest way to maintain alignment through growth is to hire like-minded people.
During the interview process, get to know your candidates on a deeper level. Learn what they value in a company and how they would respond to certain situations. If you two aren’t on the same page, it isn’t going to work out, no matter how talented the individual.
Hiring like-minded people ensures that you share a mutual goal and vision — something you cannot teach or force. Communicate on a deep level in the interview so that candidates know you’re serious about the position, their future, your company, and its company culture. If they accept the job, they’ll help you promote the kind of culture you wish to foster.
Promote your values by encouraging communication.
Lastly, culture needs to be promoted throughout your organization, not just “established.” But this isn’t difficult if you make a conscious effort to do so. You can even stick to the old internal-meetings-and-email-updates routine — just be sure to make them more inclusive than usual.
Then, reach out to your team members individually and see how they’re doing. By taking an interest in their concerns you’ll encourage feedback in both directions. After all, you don’t want your workers to feel like they don’t have anyone “upstairs” to talk to. The idea here is to stay transparent. A positive company culture can’t spread if there’s a clear class division between the workers and the leaders.