So, what is a good company culture, and how do you create one without massage booths and foosball? And why bother to create a company culture in the first place?
Ping pong tables may be the norm for Silicon Valley tech companies, but does that mean they belong in your office? If your company works in medicine or finance, that may simply be a bad idea.
Your culture communicates and maintains your core values
The company’s heart is its core values, which you establish out of your own. Are you a heartfelt humanitarian committed to transparency? Then, your company will be as well. Are you resolute in your timeliness, efficiency, and unsurpassed standards of excellence? This will also be reflected in your company. Core values take root in the startup days, with you and the first handful of people on your team.
You don’t need to try to establish a culture in the beginning. A culture will arise from the values of the company’s founders. If you and your team commit to the same core values, the culture that arises will be solid. If it feels like you are working at odds with each other, have a conversation to establish core values. These are fundamental to company culture. Your culture will communicate your core values to new team members down the line. Culture also fosters and maintains your core values over time, at all levels of operation.
Google’s commitment to innovation shows in their notoriously playful work environment. This culture stimulates innovative thinking. A bank or law firm might benefit more from a culture of seriousness and attention to detail. Establish core values unique to your company. These will be the seeds that grow into your company culture.
Cultivate the elements you want to thrive
Fostering culture is like cultivating soil. You cannot force a garden to grow a certain way. But you can decide what kind of a garden you want, and determine the conditions necessary for it to thrive. If you want a tropical garden full of orchids, for example, build a greenhouse and pump in the mist.
If you want to xeriscape and resuscitate the native grasses, first tear out the lawn. The same principles apply to your company culture. First, decide what kind of environment you want your company to be. Then structure it in a way that will attract your ideal employees and encourage them to thrive. Though any organic process comes with some surprises, your company will grow to match the essence of your original vision. Culture brings your vision into reality.
Culture is a living brand
When your company becomes a living, breathing version of your core values, you have already established a company identity. That identity is your culture. If you have grown your culture well, this identity is firm and three dimensional. This makes branding easier and more coherent because your company lives its values. All your brand needs to do is reflect your culture to the public.
If your brand is your company’s face, your culture is its psyche. A company whose outward brand appearance reflects its interior culture is authentic. Authenticity means credibility, both to your employees and to your customers. Authenticity and credibility are paramount to success.
Just as every word or action has a thought behind it, every corporate decision or ad campaign has behind it a thought rooted in company culture. These thoughts, when united and tied to a single idea, are a company mantra.
A good mantra sets the tone for decision making
Mantra works the same way in a company that it does in your mind. If you awake every morning and immediately repeat the same phrase, your mind will start to accept it as a reality. Let’s say, for example, “I am successful and well liked among those I respect and admire.”
If you write the phrase down ten times before going to sleep, you will start to see it come true in waking life. You’ll begin to conduct yourself as if you were successful and well liked. And by conducting yourself in such a way, you will make success a reality for yourself. This is the theory behind mantra and personal affirmations.
A company mantra works the same way. It pinpoints what the company is about, how it operates, where it is going. This makes it an important component of company culture. A mantra is not a long-winded and philosophical mission statement. Rather, it’s a simple idea that every employee and executive can internalize. It produces shared goals and vision.
For example, “Don’t Be Evil” is Google’s mantra. When in doubt, Facebook employees know to “Move Fast with Stable Infrastructure.” If they err in doing so, they have erred correctly and can expect no rebuff. If they err on the side of caution and plodding, they’ve have lost touch with the company culture.
A culture supported by a strong mantra communicates to team members what the company expects. Every decision by every employee refers back to the mantra as a touchstone. This empowers employees to make stronger decisions. Your mantra ensures that every level of your operation is working together, resulting in greater coherence and efficiency as you achieve your company goals.
A continuous positive work environment
You cannot overestimate the importance of this. A genuinely positive work environment will do more for your company than a thousand trust falls and wacky shirt Wednesdays. Your company has a heart (its core values) and every team member does, too. If you don’t think that matters, just consider the research showing a connection between bad leadership and employee heart disease!
The giants of home-run company culture, such as Zappo’s and JetBlue, know the value of a positive work environment. They know it not only translates into better productivity, but it also means a better experience for the customer and client base. Zappo’s has amazing customer service because it first has happy employees. Customers have fun on JetBlue flights because the attendants are having fun.
A positive culture means you are more likely to keep the talented employees that your culture attracted in the first place. Employee retention means stronger bonds of loyalty, and you’ll avoid costly turnover. All this amounts to health and longevity for your company, both fiscally and physiologically. And it all starts with cultivating a strong and deliberate culture rooted in meaningful core values.
DISCLAIMER: This article expresses my own ideas and opinions. Any information I have shared are from sources that I believe to be reliable and accurate. I did not receive any financial compensation in writing this post, nor do I own any shares in any company I’ve mentioned. I encourage any reader to do their own diligent research first before making any investment decisions.
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