Company culture can be a bit of a mystery. It is a hard, tangible, thing to pinpoint and nail down. What is it? How do you achieve a positive one? Why does it even matter? The answers to these questions are quite different from one company to the next. But rest assured, every single company has a culture, good or bad.
One of the challenges in the startup world is establishing what your culture is and should be. When a company is still small it has the luxury of defining culture, setting it on a positive course. That’s a very exciting thing, and something larger organizations do not typically benefit from. Once you’ve grown up as a company a lot of times the culture can become unmanageable and often times out of your control.
The question I’d like to pose is. How does one (a founder, employee, etc.) improve the culture of their company? Here are five ways to do just that.
(1) Put Your Employees First
Sure, your clients are important, and your investors are critical. But nobody is as important as the employees of a company. Without them nothing happens. Not a single thing would get done without the people executing the day to day. Employees should be treated with this in mind, and never ever taken for granted. The number one thing that will improve a company’s culture is an overwhelming sense of appreciation for the employees themselves. This goes far beyond the occasional “great job!” when you pass someone in the hall. It should penetrate and effect everything thing you do, and every decision you make. Items such as employee engagement, recognition, and advocacy cannot be brushed under the rug. If you want to improve your culture place those concepts front and center, embracing them alongside your team with an emphasis on the people that make it all happen.
(2) Empower Champions in Every Department
Not everyone is a leader, and that’s just fine. A company needs every level of employee to succeed, from the head engineer to the person that greets guests at the front door. Even further, your defined leaders (managers, directors, c-suites) may not be the best fit to champion a cultural change. A big part of improving a company’s culture is establishing some figure heads internally that will get behind the idea of change and truly support it, on a daily, and even hourly basis. These people come in all shapes and sizes, but the commonality between them is their passion for improving the place they work in, and evolving the culture across the board. Find these folks, empower them to create change, and let them be the leaders of the movement.
(3) Create an Environment that Breeds Collaboration
Culture is defined by people, and collaboration amongst those people will have a positive effect for your company. If your team isn’t collaborating effectively and efficiently your culture is very likely being negatively impacted. An environment that breeds collaboration brings people together, inspires employees, produces more creative thinking, and increases productivity. All of those things will undoubtedly change your cultural direction, having an impact from the inside out. Very few employees like to work on their own on a continual basis. It gets lonely hour after hour when you’re left with nobody to communicate and collaborate with. That can be a detriment to culture on many levels. Improve your company culture by implementing strategies, processes, and technology that support collaboration from top to bottom.
(4) Keep it Casual and Let it Breathe
Lets be honest, nobody likes rules or guidelines when they are obtrusive and get in your way. Whatever you define your culture as, and however you’ve decided to change it, make sure you don’t force it down people’s throats. The best company culture comes natural, moving with and around everyone involved. Don’t get too restrictive, insisting everyone participate in everything you’ve envisioned. Personalities differ greatly amongst employees so what one person considers “fun”, another may want nothing to do with. Same goes for the work place. Your physical space (location, set up, common areas, desks, cubes, etc.) needs to be flexible to accommodate a variety of preferences and needs. Be mindful of your team’s opinion from start to finish, after all it’s their livelihood that will be most effected. Let your culture breathe and don’t take it too over the top or it will come off as contrived and over produced.
(5) Follow Through
This all sounds great. You’ve all been there. You come out of a meeting with all of these great ideas written down and priorities delegated. Then this thing called “work” gets in the way. Clients take priority, ongoing projects suck up all your time, and these “to-dos” quickly become after thoughts, plummeting to the bottom of your list in the “I’ll get to that someday” category. Don’t let it happen. Be realistic and start small, checking off attainable items that add up fast. Let the snowball effect happen, as others will see your efforts and follow suit. Be a leader, be vocal, and follow through on your goals. This mentality itself establishes a positive vibe which will trickle down (and up) quickly. Buckle down and make it happen, you’ll be thankful you did.
Cultural change within a company, big or small, isn’t easy. A company’s culture seeps into every aspect of the business. Every conversation, project, client and product is effected by the culture that is set, so don’t take it lightly. If you’re small enough to make an impactful change take advantage of it now, as it will pay dividends later when it comes to employee retention, happiness, and certainly recruiting. Don’t full yourself into thinking it can be dealt with later, as the outside world can easily detect exactly what kind of internal culture you’ve established today.