Company culture has become a huge buzzword in the business and entrepreneurial spaces lately: Some experts advocate free lunches and dry cleaning as a way to boost morale, while others say this just puts pressure on employees to work longer hours. Some think the open office floor plan is the best thing since sliced bread; others say it’s slowly killing your workers.
Creating a great company culture can feel like a minefield, but everywhere you turn are warnings of what happens when a company culture goes awry. There’s a reason the oft-cited Gallup survey discovered 70% of American workers are disengaged on the job. Companies can easily get caught up in the day-to-day struggles and forget the importance of creating an unbelievable culture for employees.
This is especially important for entrepreneurs and small businesses to keep in mind. You don’t need to be a Fortune 500 company to develop and implement a great company culture. You don’t need Facebook’s money, Zappos’s popularity, or even an office slide to build the culture you want. Bells and whistles are great, and no one is about to turn down a free lunch, but sometimes these perks that really feel like culture can distract leadership from doing the hard work of building it from scratch.
Here are just a few ways to build a great company culture from the ground up, and they can work for your company whether it’s staffed with 10 or 1,000 people:
One of the most important aspects of developing a brand voice is to keep it consistently authentic. A good company culture should strive for the same authenticity, and this voice should come from the founder in the case of a startup, or the leadership team in the case of a larger organization. Your culture needs to be an extension of your own consistently held and demonstrated beliefs, along with a clear mission that goes beyond dollars and cents.
In other words, how are you going to change the world? There’s nothing more personal than creating meaning in one’s work, and life.
You should be personally invested in the fate of your company; after all, it’s your baby. Therefore, your fingerprints should be clearly visible on everything in your company, and its culture should be a reflection of who you are as a person and what you care about. This is the best way to ensure authenticity, and therefore stickiness.
Ask yourself why you wanted to create this company, what you want to give back to the world, and what your vision for the future entails. Most importantly, build a company that you would want to be a part of and that will, in some way, change the world for the better. Keep in mind you’re not just building a company, you’re also building a place to work that you believe will be the greatest place to work in the history of the world, bar none.
Communication is key, whether it’s selling your idea to investors or selling your company culture to employees. Yet communication is one place many leaders fall down on the job, especially when it comes to company culture. According to a study by SIS International Research, 70% of small to midsize businesses claim ineffective communication is their primary problem.
If a founder is a great communicator, it’s pretty easy early on to get the culture moving in the right direction. However, not every founder is gifted with a silver tongue and the ability to easily motivate a team, small or large. If so, you’ll need to find some ways to share the vision of the company outside of your personal communication style. There are plenty of ways to communicate company culture, including visually through your organization’s physical spaces.
If you want to build a collaborative culture, for example, make collaboration an important part of every workday. You can do this by holding frequent brainstorming meetings and creating open spaces in the office where creativity can occur. Hang up whiteboards, schedule innovation retreats, and hire people with creativity baked into their DNA.
I fundamentally believe we have it backwards in the U.S.–we build our lives around our jobs instead of the other way around. This leads to stress and unhappiness, which in turn leads to poor productivity and poor outcomes at work. Americans are seriously stressed; a study from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health found almost half of all Americans had experienced a great deal of stress in the past year. In the top three most stressful events, under serious illness and death of a loved one, was workplace stress.
We need to start treating people like human beings, not like cogs in a productivity machine. Look at the individual first and their role second and relate to employees on a more human level.
When employees feel cared about as people, I’ve found they do their best work. They also stay longer, work harder, and produce more, which makes caring an amazing rate of increase. It’s a win-win for everyone.
This attitude also trickles down into customer service, since relating to others on a human level should be so wholly baked into company culture. You can’t create a company without great people, and you can’t create a good company culture without recognizing the humanity in your employees.
You don’t need an unlimited budget or fancy perks to create a great culture with the ability to scale with your company. You just need to be authentic, communicate your vision, and care about your growing workforce.