Got Any Culture In Your Business?
Without doing anything about it, every business has a culture. The problem with doing nothing about it, is that it will be what it will be, not necessarily what we would ideally like it to be. Not necessarily what is optimal for the business nor, more importantly, what is best for customers.
Culture makes a business. Just look at any organisation that you admire, that perhaps you’d dream of aspiring to: maybe Google, John Lewis, Virgin Atlantic, or perhaps a mate’s highly successful business. They all have a culture that defines them, that differentiates them from their competitors, that helps attract, motivate and retain great employees, and that attracts and retains people who want to do business with them.
You have immense power to impact significantly one of the most important factors in the achievement of business success.
STEP 1: defining your desired business culture
Culture is all about shared values, common behaviours and attitudes, and similar goals. Importantly this doesn’t mean that it’s all about being the same, or ‘fitting the mould’. That’s the mistake many companies make when recruiting people who (supposedly) ‘fit in’. Diversity brings strength, and most great cultures embrace that fact.
When a business is just one person, the culture is the personality of that individual, the way they behave, their own values. As the business expands, up to somewhere around 5-10 people, the culture created by the owner spreads fairly easily, as there’s plenty of close contact, working together, and it’s easy for people to replicate the way in which the owner behaves. Hopefully that’s a good thing…
But beyond that it becomes much more about the personality of the business rather than the personality of the business owner. There’s a need to become more organised, more thoughtful and more communicative about the development of business culture. The best starting place is to consider what we’d like the culture to be like. Write it down. Check that it’s realistically achievable.
Think about how our culture works from our customers’ perspective. Will it be attractive to potential clients, does it mean that our customers are more likely to want to do business with us, that the product or service we provide (developed or supplied by our people with values and behaviours as defined in our culture) better meets their needs?
Is the culture one that will help attract, motivate and retain highly able people to work in the business? Will it allow them to maximise their contribution to the business, to want to be part of the business’s success?
Will the culture underpin the business’s financial success? Culture is not a wishy washy we’re all happy together holiday camp – fundamentally it has to support the achievement of business goals and that includes the all-important financial ones.
STEP 2: articulating and communicating
Now we’ve a definition of what our business’s culture is, it needs to be articulated in a way that’s readily understood and widely communicated throughout our business. Vision, mission and values is a good place to start, but sticking this onto a powerpoint slide at a company meeting will not get us far:
What does the vision really mean? Why is it important? What have these values got to do with me? How does it impact on me in my job in the warehouse? Why should I be bothered anyway?
The culture starts at the top of the business, so an integral part of defining it and getting buy-in is to fully involve the senior team. It then must be communicated in ways that people understand, and in particular demonstrated in the behaviour, the decision-making, the leadership and management style of senior people in the company.
STEP 3: training, development and coaching
At every opportunity, we should take the time to teach our people about the values and behaviours that are important in the business. If we can use examples, so much the better – it’s important to move from what to many people feels like theory (a list of company values) to the reality of real life situations.
Get this into induction programmes for new joiners, and continue to reinforce through coaching, company meetings and great leadership.
STEP 4: recruitment
We’ve got to have people in the business who are going to buy into and live the business’s culture. This starts with recruiting the right people. So recruitment has to evolve from selection based on qualifications, experience and that highly subjective and error-prone criteria ‘personality fit’, to a process that includes the assessment of behavioural characteristics and personal values.
That will give us at minimum the right people who can be developed into valuable contributors to the business. As a by-product, it will enhance the recruitment process considerably and facilitate the hiring of people who will grow into jobs (rather than already being able to do them) and be likely candidates for more senior jobs in the future.
STEP 5: living it
If there’s respect and admiration, the leadership team will be the role-models for everyone else in the business. That means that people will replicate the behaviours they see and the values they perceive being used.
So as senior players in an organisation we have to live the culture, be the culture, demonstrate it consistently in everything we do. If we don’t it will be thought to be a sham, some words on a piece of paper that don’t mean much in reality. If we do, it will be seen as important, as the way to be, the bond that ties the business together, the essential element of future success.
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