Company culture seems to be all the rage. An online search can reveal nearly 100,000 news articles about it in 2015 alone.
As a small-business owner, you may read about the revolutionary moves made by companies like Google and Zappos and think, “There’s no way I can do that.”
The good news is, you don’t have to. A desirable company culture can be well within reach—just by being yourself and staying true to your organization’s most important values. You can encourage a positive environment that engages and inspires managers, staff and customers simply by keeping in mind these characteristics of some of the best business cultures.
The era of command and control is over. Companies with strong cultures have a clear mission and vision that's communicated from the top and reinforced periodically. You should have an open-door policy for feedback and suggestions and take the time to explain the big picture behind decisions and new developments. And keep in mind that more than ever, leaders seem to be extending open communication to external constituents via an active social media presence.
Hierarchy—with its unnecessary layers, bureaucratic processes and cog-in-a-wheel employees—can be the enemy of a vibrant culture. You can’t, however, just flatten your organization and hope for the best. Instead, consider aiming for a holocracy. This style removes power from a management hierarchy and distributes it across self-governed teams, with clear roles that are executed autonomously by each member.
Even if you’ve been in business for decades, you can kill your culture if you have a “because that’s how we’ve always done it” attitude. Desirable company cultures facilitate intrapreneurship, or the practice of coming up with and executing fresh ideas within the context of an established organization. Get into the habit of saying yes instead of no when you hear about a new approach, reward your employees for experimentation and don’t penalize failure.
Companies that emphasize quality are not only more motivating; they can also be more profitable. CEB, an advisory firm of more than 60 multinational companies, illustrated in recent research that employees who rank their companies “high” for quality make 46 percent fewer mistakes. And for every 5,000 employees, moving from a low to a high quality ranking saves a company $67 million annually. Ideally, your quality message should be customized by department and delivered by trusted managers.
In today’s chaotic business environment, companies must change and adapt quickly. However, in a desirable culture, basic values, beliefs and expectations remain consistent. Remember, too, that culture is all about people. It takes time to build a true sense of team, so try to avoid moving your parts around too often. Once you’ve embarked on a new direction, stay the course unless there’s a strategic imperative to do otherwise.
A desirable culture won’t stay that way without proper care and feeding. Living up to an excellent standard requires maintenance, and that means you should constantly reexamine what’s working and what isn’t. Employ cultural diagnostics and regularly take your culture’s temperature via employee surveys, and when a need to tweak presents itself, create metrics around specific behavior modifications.
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