Company culture is a hot topic in the business world. More and more entrepreneurs are realizing how much harder it is to build loyalty, discipline, and individuality without company culture. In many industries, strong company culture is what separates the good companies from the great companies. Everyone from Trader Joe’s to Google would likely agree that company culture has been a primary contributor to their growth and overall success.
But like other integral elements of your business, doing the bare minimum won’t give you the results you’re looking for. In order to reap the intended benefits of company culture, you must put significant effort into developing and maintaining it.
Of those benefits, arguably the most important is a motivated and dedicated team. This is the dream scenario, right? When employees feel a personal connection to their company, they enjoy coming to work and continuously make decisions that serve the company, not their own interests.
Let’s be honest: you can’t expect every employee to feel a personal connection to their work or their industry. It’s perfectly feasible, however, to instill a connection with certain values and goals. After all, people feel more connected to each other when they learn the beliefs that guide their decisions. Well, the same concept applies to businesses. Company culture gives employees a way of life that they can identify with and immerse themselves in. If you choose the right values, this way of life will bring out the best version of each team member.
In this guide, we’ll explain the true definition of company culture along with how to create it and use it as a tool for growth.
What Is Company Culture?
Company culture is like a code of conduct for your work environment. It determines how employees treat each other, how they approach daily tasks and new challenges, and the kind of “vibe” employees feel in the workplace.
Most businesses derive company culture from their core values, which are supposed to reflect the business’s goals. If employees remain true to their core values, the business’s goals become much easier to achieve. The central purpose of company culture is to ensure that employees do just that. For this reason, company culture is widely viewed as a highly effective form of discipline. Despite all the changes your business goes through, your company culture stays the same. This allows employees to continue making the right decisions while never losing track of their long-term goals.
Company culture also represents the type of personality that is most likely to succeed at your business. Since personality is just as (if not more) important than talent or experience, strong company culture can prevent you from unknowingly hiring the wrong candidates.
Company Culture: What Makes It Strong
Strong company culture makes employees want to come to work. At first, this sounds very naïve and unrealistic. What if employees don’t agree with the values you’ve chosen? You can’t just force someone to like their job.
To understand what makes company culture “strong,” think about how someone goes from an acquaintance to a trusted friend. The more you get to know someone, the closer you feel to that person. You learn the beliefs that guide their decisions, and how they acquired those beliefs in the first place. This person might not have the same exact values as you. But don’t you feel more connected to them after learning the roots and strength of their values?
Strong company culture does the same thing for employees and your business. Your employees might not share the same values as your business in their personal lives. But if you convey your business’s core values strongly enough, your employees will feel connected to them. In this sense, company culture is a lot like your business’s brand identity. It turns your business into a person with a multi-layered background by giving your business “human” qualities.
Every business has their own definition of the “right” company culture, just like every person has their own way of doing things. But despite their differences in specific values, virtually all businesses strive for the same general outcomes of company culture. They want employees to feel comfortable, fulfilled, respected, and of course, motivated. In other words, work should give them all the mental and emotional tools they need to perform to the best of their ability. Without company culture, your employees will likely feel that their work environment is working against them, not for them.
How To Create Company Culture
Earlier, we mentioned that you won’t reap the benefits of company culture if you don’t take the time to properly develop it. This is a step-by-step process, and you can’t skip or breeze through any steps and expect company culture to have a real impact on your business.
Many entrepreneurs struggle with developing company culture because there’s no immediate results or notions of success. You won’t know if you’re doing a good enough job until several weeks or even months have passed. All you can do is trust the process by going about it the right way:
1. Define Your Core Values And Goals
This is easily the most important step, so it deserves the most thought. If you’ve already been through the branding process, the following exercises should seem fairly familiar.
Core values and goals are the cornerstone of company culture. Think about why you launched your business and the value you wish to provide for your customers. On the surface, your business exists to sell a product or service. Well, what are the mental and emotional benefits of your offerings?
Maybe they make a certain everyday activity more enjoyable. Popular examples include eating, shopping, or sleeping. Maybe your offerings bring your customers closer to their friends or family members. You’re essentially trying to figure out the role your offerings play in your customers’ lives.
For example, let’s say you own a clothing company that makes very unique products for a very unique type of person. Thus, the product inspires customers to embrace their individuality and reminds them that they are not alone.
Some businesses define their core values by imagining their ideal employee, or the kind of person who would achieve the most success at your business. How does your ideal employee communicate with co-workers? How does your ideal employee show that they have the business’s best interests at heart?
When describing your ideal employee, try to use as much detail as possible. What kind of music does this person listen to? How do they dress? What kind of products would they own?
One way answer these questions is to envision three people who would succeed at your company co-mingling at a party. Which passions or hobbies would they share? What would they talk about?
You could also try the opposite approach: Describing someone who wouldn’t succeed at your business.
2. Hire Candidates That Reflect Your Company Culture
Now that you’ve nailed down your core values and personality, you can establish the criteria for future hires. A critical element of maintaining company culture is only hiring people who exhibit the characteristics of your ideal employee.
Yes, it’s much harder to find someone who possesses a certain personality than it is to find someone with an impressive resume. But that just shows the importance and sensitivity of company culture. If your hiring policies deviate from your core values, it may affect the loyalty and work ethic of your current team. And when you finally find the right candidate, the chances of this hire not working out should be slim to none. As long as the candidate’s personality meshes well with the rest of the team, he or she will have a much easier time learning specific tasks. Industry-related knowledge can be taught but the right personality traits cannot.
You can avoid interviewing candidates with the wrong personalities by tailoring your job descriptions to core values. If you can’t write a job description for your ideal employee, then you haven’t defined these characteristics clearly enough.
After writing the description, think of specific interview questions that will tell you more about the candidate’s personality. Also, when discussing company culture to potential candidates, don’t just list your core values. You must additionally explain what it means to exhibit these values and provide examples of how your current team does this each day.
3. Show That You Take Company Culture Seriously
We’ve repeatedly emphasized that establishing company culture isn’t easy. It requires constant effort from the whole team but it begins with the actions of the business owner. The traditional “Do as I say, not as I do” mindset cannot be applied to today’s workforce. Anyone can give instructions or put up posters, and your team knows that.
To show that you take company culture seriously, focus on immersing your team in a world built on your core values. Company culture must be immersive in order to produce the intended results. Think about how some of your favorite restaurants create an immersive experience for their customers. This experience comes from a number of elements, like music, decorations, and the staff members’ personalities. These elements work together to immerse the customer in the restaurant’s culture.
As the business owner, it’s your job to immerse your team in your company culture through physical and non-physical elements. Examples of the former might include the layout of your office, wall art, or the food/beverages available. It’s the non-physical elements, however, that matter most. This includes your management style, internal communication, and the kind of behavior from employees you choose to reward or denounce.
In summary, you can’t expect employees to follow core values if you do not outwardly exhibit them each day. This is another reason to choose your core values very carefully. During this process, ask yourself: What can I do to outwardly exhibit this value through our company culture? Certain parts of you and your team’s day-to-day routine should present the opportunity to exhibit at least one or two core values.
4. Use Company Culture To Solve Disagreements
Company culture is supposed to create a positive, motivational, and highly productive work environment. Employees must not be concerned about the way things get done, or how they will deal with new challenges. You can quash these concerns by building company-wide respect, which is yet another major benefit of strong company culture.
This takes us back to the aforementioned connection between company culture and discipline. Employees will come to respect each other (and their superiors) by collectively following the same core values. There won’t be any notions of certain employees bringing the rest of the team down or impeding their productivity. Both scenarios are extremely common in businesses that lack company culture. In fact, many businesses choose to strengthen their company culture solely to prevent employees from resenting each other.
Company-wide respect is especially important when it comes to communication, collaboration, and solving internal conflicts. But your employees won’t instantly know how to apply their core values to these processes. You must develop step-by-step methods for allowing company culture to dictate how multi-employee situations play out. For example, when two employees are in a disagreement, which values should they consider to determine the solution?
Strong company culture is also reflected in how you reward individual and company-wide success. Yes, even your celebratory measures must take your core values into account. Certain types of rewards, like happy hours, entertainment, or working from home, will show your team how company culture can be integrated into numerous areas of their lives. These are just more opportunities to bring out the best version of your employees and remind them that this is the true purpose of company culture.
5. Develop A Plan For Maintaining Company Culture
Many businesses develop company culture with great ambition but neglect to maintain it over time. They forget that company culture requires constant effort, much like marketing, hiring, or any other long-term initiative. You have to create a plan that describes how you will maintain and strengthen company culture throughout the coming months. Little by little, you must consistently modify company policies and procedures to align with your core values. This is an ongoing, endless process since there will always be more elements of your business (including your own management style) that could be refined to better support company culture.
And like the previous steps, it’s crucial to be as specific as possible with your long-term plan. For example, it’s easy to write down a plan to improve communication or structure. But how you will actually do it? Which smaller steps will you take to move closer to this larger goal? Think about the specific resources associated with implementing new policies: videos, written documents, email surveys, etc.
Here’s the kicker: the methods you use to maintain company culture must align with your core values as well. This might mean disregarding certain traditional methods because they won’t do as good of a job cementing loyalty and trust amongst employees.
6. Market Your Company Culture Through Your Brand
The first two steps were centered around your ideal employee and establishing the kind of personality you need to look for in new hires. Unfortunately, these people won’t come to you on their own. Part of the challenge of company culture is its effect on the hiring process. If you want to hire a very specific type of person, you have to market to that audience. Your ideal employee is out there, searching for a business like yours. You just have to make sure that when this person discovers your business, they immediately get the feeling that they’ve found their new home.
This is why company culture and branding go hand-in-hand. Your business’s brand identity is supposed to reflect your core values. So, when developing promotional materials (your website, email advertisements, social media presence), keep your company culture in mind. Does the voice, structure and messaging reflect your core values? A great start is the “About Us” or “Meet The Team” section of your website.
How to Change Company Culture
Despite the importance of company culture, only recently has it become a household name. Plenty of established businesses lack company culture. Some of them, however, are finally realizing that this is the reason they’ve had so much trouble with growth and employee loyalty. Thankfully, it’s never too late to change or improve your company culture.
Here’s a few tips for starting this process:
1. Allow Employees To Share Ideas
When asked why they don’t prioritize company culture, a common answer from entrepreneurs is “I’m too busy.” But you can’t put off company culture until you have more time on your hands, as that time may never come. You can get started now by creating a group of employees who will brainstorm ideas for core values and new policies.
Unless these employees have some ideas already, it might not make sense to hold meetings just yet. This probably won’t be a good use of their time. Instead, just ask them to write down whatever ideas come to mind. Once each group member has amassed a decent list, then they can begin holding meetings and decide which ideas to move forward with.
2. Reward Employees Who Exhibit Core Values
One of the easiest ways to put your core values into action is by rewarding employees who exhibit them. This will give your team a clearer picture of the kind of company culture you’re trying to develop.
Recognition and positive reinforcement are two essential tactics for strengthening company culture in general. If you don’t acknowledge employees who follow your core values, how important could they possible be?
3. Focus On Creating A Happy Work Environment
All types of company culture share at least one common goal: positivity. If your employees seem happier and more confident at work, you are probably doing a good job building company culture. This suggests that your employees are correctly interpreting your core values.
An increase in productivity doesn’t mean your employees aren’t thinking about leaving your business. Loyalty comes from the combination of motivation and comfort, which can only be achieved through an indisputably positive work environment. It’s crucial to never forget that this is the central purpose of company culture. You’ll know your plan is working when there’s more positivity in the workplace.