What it Takes to Build a Strong Company Culture

Anita Campbell

Monday, July 13th, 2015

A mentor of mine once said that company culture was the thing that had the biggest impact on success, but sadly was given the least attention in most businesses. You should pay attention to your culture, because it impacts everything — especially revenue growth and profitability.

Company culture is hard to define, but let me take a crack at it.

Company culture is the accumulation of the attitudes and behaviors of everyone in your company — starting with you as the owner. If companies had personalities, your culture would be the personality of your company.

Culture is based on values — what you as the owner and what people in your company value and think is important. That’s why it’s important to hire people who share similar values to you as the owner.

It’s also important to deliberately shape your company culture. Don’t let it just happen. Don’t accept it if it’s not what you want. Change it.

To define your company’s culture today, and see if you’re satisfied with it, ask yourself these kinds of questions:

Rules and restrictions — Does your business have a lot of restrictions on dress, hours of work, and what employees can or should do? Or is the environment flexible and open — characterized by individual choice and operating more on the honor system?

Manager-employee relationship — Do managers get out front and lead by positive example? Do most employees feel managers are helpful and appreciative? Is there a level of mutual respect? Or are employees frequently at odds with managers, and vice versa? Do employees tend to stay once hired, or do you have high turnover rates?

Employee attitude — Are interactions among co-workers mostly positive and mutually respectful? Or are many employees argumentative, complaining, backbiting or negative?

Treatment of customers, clients and the general public — Do company policies and communications from management emphasize the importance of positive relations with clients and customers? Are employees courteous and helpful toward customers and the public? Or do many of your people present a grumpy, rude or uncaring face to them? And what happens if they are unpleasant toward customers and others — is that behavior tacitly accepted, or counseled immediately?

Customer satisfaction — Are customer satisfaction scores high or low? In which direction are they moving? And what about customer churn — do many customers renew or come back? Or are you constantly having to seek out new customers just to maintain the status quo?

Working premises and conditions — Is the workplace clean, safe and comfortable to work in, considering the nature of your business? Is it an asset to attract new employees? Or is it unnecessarily noisy, unkempt and a place people can’t wait to flee from at day’s end?

Innovation — Does management ever adopt employee suggestions or new ideas? How often do processes, policies or products change? Or has everything stayed the same for as long as you can remember? If asked, would clients say your company compares favorably with competitors, or is the marketplace leaving your company or product in the dust?

Employee initiative — Do employees go above and beyond if the situation calls for it? Do they have can-do attitudes? Or do they just “work to rule,” meaning they do the least they possibly can get away with?

Employee welfare and rewards — Do company communications and policies emphasize that the company is interested in the welfare of employees? Does your company provide benefits, such as medical, dental, vision and life insurance? Are employees rewarded for behavior that meets the company’s value system?

The answers to these kinds of questions will paint a picture of your company culture. Company culture starts with values — what is important and valued in your company, either implicitly or explicitly. If your culture doesn’t reflect the values you hold dear, then you have a bit of work ahead of you, to change it.

MetLife has a good concise whitepaper about values, how they impact company culture, and how to change culture positively. Here’s a short excerpt:

Culture Happens: How to Ensure It’s What You Want
“Create a culture that benefits your employees, customers and small business.

When you think about great company culture, you may think of giants such as Google, Starbucks or Southwest Airlines. These industry heavyweights are regularly included on lists of best places to work, lauded for their happy workers and healthy work environments. But many small business owners are also succeeding at making the workplace enjoyable, building cultures that will help them grow well into the future.

In fact, culture and employee engagement have become increasingly relevant to businesses of all sizes as their leaders recognize the direct impact on company performance. Companies with highly engaged employees have an easier time finding new hires, better customer service, less turnover and are more profitable in the long run, according to a recent study published by Deloitte University Press. The same study revealed that 87 percent of organizations cited culture as one of their main challenges, and 50 percent called the topic ‘very important’.”

About Anita Campbell

I am the Founder, CEO and Editor in Chief of this Small Business Trends site and the Small Business Trends newsletter. I am also the host of Small Business Trends Radio.