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The other day, I was being interviewed by a major news outlet about how businesses and companies should define their corporate culture. Sometimes, corporate culture needs to be defined as the result of a merger or acquisition which brings two entities together to form one. Other times, corporate culture needs to be defined when an organization grows from one or a small number of people to many more, or when your sole proprietorship turns into an company with multiple employees. In fact, if you are running a business or working at one that has more than one employee, there is likely a certain “culture” either formally or informally that governs the way you carry out your business each day and implies what you stand for.
Defining a corporate culture is hard, especially the bigger you get. Actually, defining it is tough, but actually living it and having staff buy into it is equally tough. I’ve been a part of leading several departments, divisions and large companies that have had to do this, and the only indisputable fact I’ve found is that defining corporate culture is indeed one of the most difficult things a company can do, but if you get it right, the rewards are significant. Most of you have heard case studies about Zappos and their unique culture. Others that come to mind are Netflix. Google. All are successful businesses from different walks of life that place have placed an emphasis on getting culture correct.
What are a few things to keep in mind when defining or putting into practice a corporate culture? Here are four tips:
1) Empower people to have a voice in developing and defining the new or emerging corporate culture. This responsibility isn’t solely dedicated to a few high-level executives or one business owner; in fact, a better way to engage all employees is through regular communication, one-to-one meetings with staff, anonymous employee surveys and a commitment by all to speak up when the culture doesn’t fit or work. The truth is that everyone should feel invested in what they want their corporate culture to be. Why? Because people come to work every day, most want to do their best, and they tend to do their best work in an environment that suits them. On the flip side, if your culture is well-defined, known by all, and committed to by all, it is easier for staff and decision-makers to identify people who simply don’t fit the culture, don’t work well in the culture or don’t support it.
2) Do not rush into defining your corporate culture. It takes time and is a process, especially if you heed point number one above. There is not one case I know of where a corporate culture was defined and then took shape in a matter of days. Typically, it is measured in months and occasionally even years. Too often we see business leaders who are anxious to create a certain type of corporate culture become frustrated when it doesn’t “take” within a couple of weeks. If you have a long-term vision for your business, it will take time for current employees to adapt to the culture and to find new employees who embrace your ideals. For many, stepping into or embracing a new corporate culture is akin to the first day of High School where it takes time to adjust to new people, new ways of doing things and figuring out how or if you fit in. For people overseeing these types of corporate culture evolutions, give yourself a longer runway than you might expect.
3) Pay attention to all parts of the organization. If you’re a smaller business with one office, don’t disregard anyone’s opinion. If you’re a larger company with multiple offices and geographies, it is doubly important to make sure those situated outside of headquarters feel involved and that they have a voice. People not close to the “mother ship” may have a tendency to feel less involved which can hinder your overall efforts in defining your culture company-wide.
4) Finally, publish and make it well-known what your corporate culture is and what the business stands for. Tack your mission statement and the cultures which support it up on walls and bulletin boards. It sounds cheesy, or like something taken out of the movie “Office Space”, but it does work and most successful organizations and businesses do in fact make their goals and culture well-known inside the company as well as outside the company.