Company culture – it’s a foundational element of your business. But with recent changes in how we do business, making culture a priority can be challenging. Employees may be working from multiple locations and on different schedules, how you connect with customers has likely changed, and potentially, you’ve pivoted in terms of the products and services you offer or how they are provided.
As business owners agreed during a discussion I led at our Exit Planning Peer Advisory Board meeting in March, the dynamic nature of culture demands attention when the business environment shifts. Perhaps recent changes call for you to revisit the specifics of your culture, to ensure that it remains fully relevant. Now may be the perfect time for a culture refresher – which can help you stay on track, or regain traction if you’ve felt a bit out of control.
What is culture and why is it important?
Culture is a set of values a company identifies and adopts that define the way it does business – both internally and externally – and that affects every aspect of the business. Here are some examples:
- Your culture will dictate the mindset of your staff, their level of engagement, job satisfaction, and productivity.
- The mindset and characteristics of your staff determine how your customers are treated.
- Employee retention/turnover is driven by culture.
- Clients/customers tend to choose vendors and providers with whom they share values.
- Culture is tied to your vision, mission and strategy. If you don’t define and nurture it, culture will be defined by the circumstances you allow to exist within the business and will have a life of its own – which may run counter to what you need and want.
- All these factors affect the bottom line.
How can you cultivate the business culture you need and want?
Start by identifying at least three to five words that define the culture you envision. Consider the core values that you want to be evident in your people, your products/services, and how work and communications are carried out. Then consider the culture that currently exists within your company and what characterizes it. Your people are a reflection of your existing culture. Are your employees engaged or distant? Are they happy? Are they in the right jobs and do they feel that they are given opportunities to contribute, be heard and grow? Is your turnover rate too high or do staff members want to stay with your company? Does your leadership team function well as a unit and lead effectively? Are communications clear and effective or is there confusion or discord? Customers also reflect your culture; consider whether there are issues with clients. If so identify what they are and why they are occurring.
Once you’ve assessed your current culture, compare it to the culture you want. If you’ve not hit the mark, visualize how the new and improved culture looks, in action, within your company, and what improvements might result. Identify the gaps and differences between your current culture and where you want to be. What changes need to occur to get there?
How can you motivate employees to buy into your culture?
Once you’ve defined your culture, introduce and clearly communicate it to your people, including why it is important. Model the culture you desire through your own actions and be sure your leadership team models it as well. Include culture in discussions about other aspects of your business and how it relates. Include the topic of culture as part of your hiring and review process. Recognize and reward the actions of employees that are consistent with your culture. Create an environment of transparency, where mistakes and errors can be acknowledged without fear of negative repercussions, but instead are viewed as opportunities to learn, improve, and change processes so that the same mistakes are not repeated.
What about the “toxic” employee?
In discussions about culture, the subject of toxic or problem employees often comes up. If you have them, what do you do about them to preserve your culture?
Where there are relationships, there will always be “people” issues. A recent study by the American Productivity and Quality Center revealed that only 3 to 5 percent of employees are considered truly toxic – so toxic symptoms may not justify a diagnosis. Staff members that exhibit “problematic” or “toxic” behaviors may do so because they do not feel valued or trusted to do the work they are capable of doing, may desire more communication from their managers, or may lack confidence about coming changes or their skill levels. A more proactive and appreciative management approach may resolve these problems.
Remember that individuals may be dealing with levels of stress right now that are far beyond what they were experiencing only weeks ago, and potentially from multiple sources – fears that work may be lost, a spouse’s loss of work, whether they can keep up with bills, if children will be educated from school or home this Fall, illness or even the loss of a loved one to COVID-19.
Stepping into the New Normal – what now?
You may have discovered that your values have changed along with changing circumstances. Maybe you have a greater appreciation for your employees and customers and want to make that evident. You may have found that having your staff work from home more may be a great way to do business. Perhaps you’ve come up with some innovative solutions or ideas. These are new values and practices that you may want to incorporate into your culture. Periodically put your culture to the test by asking these questions:
- What defines your current culture?
- Does it work for you or against you?
- Does it come naturally to “live” your culture?
- Are your employees engaged?
- What needs to change?
Culture is an external expression of what drives your company internally. As our lives and businesses evolve, keep culture up front to stay true to your course and successfully navigate times of uncertainty.