Part 2: People: Your Most Valuable Asset – Creating A Winning Company Culture

What is Culture?

Culture is defined as “predominating attitudes and behaviors that characterize the functioning of a group or organization.” How are these attitudes and behaviors formed? What really makes the difference in a great culture and one which leaves something to be desired? In my experience, the answer to both questions is the same: the leadership. Positive attitudes and good habits flow from the top down.

There is no doubt that there is a direct correlation between the size of the company and the amount of control the leadership has on the atmosphere of the company. In an organization with only 2-35 people, the individual(s) who is the head of the group or the owner, holds tremendous influence over the culture. Even for larger companies, the attitude and behavior of the leadership is the single greatest determiner of company culture. Another important factor to remember, is the proximity of the people. For example, if everyone is located geographically in one office, the influence any one person holds is greater than if you have 50 people in 4 offices. This kind of responsibility should not be taken lighten lightly and requires a great leader if the company is going to fulfill its potential.

Much has been written about the personality traits of great leaders. Some of the most common characteristics include people who are good communicators, strategic thinkers, visionaries, highly intelligent, charismatic, honest, fair, and even humble. All of these are good descriptions, but how can they be used to cultivate the culture of a company? It was summed up best by Eleanor Roosevelt, “A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader; a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.” Let’s breakdown some of the ways to build a winning company culture and see how a great leader can help create a nourishing environment for their employees.

The Ways to Build a Winning Company Culture

Good communication is the first key element.

When communication is open at all levels, it encourages employees to provide input and take ownership of the company’s goals.A strong team dynamic is critical. When leadership encourages everyone to work as a team, it fosters good-will among the troops. This type of environment creates a safe place for everyone to give positive suggestions for change. Of course, the company leadership must be open to this input and willing to implement the changes for this to be an effective tactic, otherwise, it will have no meaning.

Fun is not something that is usually taken into consideration in the work space, but it is very important.

A great company culture is one where true, lasting relationships are formed and people feel they are part of an organization that cares about them, their families, and their future. If you provide these extra bonding opportunities, especially fun ones, it will pay huge dividends towards gaining a winning company culture.

Training, cross training, promoting from within, and allowing people to advance in an organization can go a long way.

Many times, individuals are hired by a company and then grow to be very skilled and knowledgeable. However, their manager may continue to see that individual as they were at the beginning, with no discernible skill set and very little experience. They never consider how much the candidate has developed their talents. As a result, the employee is forced to move to another company in order to achieve their personal goals of growth. They leave because they are never given the opportunity for advancement and begin to feel frustrated. This can be avoided by leadership closely observing their employees and giving them annual, semi-annual, or quarterly reviews to gauge progress.

Being open about company goals and aspirations is a great way to enhance company culture.

If an organization is clear on where they want to be in five, ten, or even twenty years, then their employees will have an excellent picture of how to help move toward that vision.If the goals are nebulous and not clearly defined in the leader’s mind, how can the employees be expected to help attain them? Even if leadership has identified a set of goals, but change them every three months, the culture will suffer. People are drawn to stability and when objectives fluctuate constantly, frustration builds. When utilizing a team approach, such as the one mentioned above, companies gain input from their employees on the objectives that should be set and the direction the company should take. This gives the employees ownership in the goals, making them not just business goals, but personal goals as well.

Strange as it sounds, customer service can play an important role in company culture as well.

What needs to be considered is how the organization as a whole treats their customer base? Like most things, this begins with the leadership. If the customer service standard is set high, this will filter down throughout the company. Employees will be able to take pride in their company and the way they respond to their customer’s needs. Once they have witnessed how much the organization is devoted to their clients, the employees will understand that the company will take care of them in the same way.

Pitfalls to Avoid

We’ve talked about some strategies to build a good culture, but what are some of the pitfalls that should be avoid? What are the destroyers of a great company culture? By looking at the opposites of the above, you should have a starting point, however there are a few poisons which can destroy and undermine even the best cultures.

First and foremost is gossip.

If individuals are permitted to gossip and speak ill of people behind closed doors, the culture will suffer tremendously. A leader who allows or engages in this type of behavior is asking for trouble in the long-term. Growth will be stunted, and the company will never realize its potential if it is battling itself from within. This can be a tricky problem to root out, because if there is an employee that is not doing the right thing, management certainly want to be informed about it. Even still, they must ensure that rumors and gossip mongering are not tolerated.

Criticize in private and praise in public

Another well-known, basic management technique that is, unfortunately, also one of the most neglected, is to criticize in private and praise in public. This is a good way for leadership to gain the trust of their employees. No one likes to be ridiculed in front of others, a private correction is far better. The opposite is true when it comes to rewarding hard work, this should be recognized in front of everyone. Not following this policy can damage company culture.

Bad leadership

Similarly, a dictator style of leadership rarely involves a great company culture. I am not proposing it’s smart to rule by total consensus. However, Factoring is a people business, if someone in leadership believes they are the smartest person in the company, and they make sure everyone knows it, they will end up surrounded by the type of individuals who will only say yes. Even when these employees don’t think it’s smart, they will agree with the leadership because that is what is required of them. While this might feed egos, it will limit the growth of the company by not allowing others’ ideas to be heard. If a team environment is not encouraged, you will lose your best people.

Poor compensation

Finally, in addition to the intrinsic rewards mentioned above, there should be monetary rewards as well. Individuals have families, goals, and aspirations outside of the office. If they are not paid market compensation and rewarded monetarily for their contribution, the company will be known as a very stingy place to work. The cost of replacing a great person is usually much higher than treating that person right in the first place.

In closing, please know that a winning company culture will enhance company profits and growth. It is the leader’s responsibility to define and cultivate a positive culture. You choose to do so or not do so at your own peril.

The final part of this series will coming out soon!