Laura Bouttell, Managing Director at Quarterdeck takes us through five simple steps to improve your business culture.
Lots of companies toot their own horns about what a great culture they have, but if you have to tell people you have a great culture you probably don't. Your culture is something that is immediately obvious to people, whether that's your people, your customers or your suppliers.
When most companies first set out to improve their culture what do they do? They add a ping pong table, free food and drink, maybe an on site gym. The problem is, these things have nothing to do with culture. Most prison's have these and the culture there isn't that great.
The thing about culture is; it's really, really hard. Culture doesn't get better the more amenities you add. Culture is about how people interact with each other and, as a leader, I'm sure you've already learnt that dealing with people can be tough. Whether it's staff, customers or suppliers.
People are messy (not literally, well sometimes). They have their own motivations and reasons for doing things and guess what, your priorities as a leader are not always their priorities! Shocking I know. They all do things differently and think differently and have different preferences and likes and have different opinions and experience. So just when you think you've got it sorted you find that the techniques that worked in the past for other people are totally ineffective with someone else. There is no one size fits all when it comes to people.
So how do you build a one size fits all culture? Like I said, it's hard. You're in for a tough time. If it were as simple as buying a ping pong table everyone would have a great culture.
But the fact that it's hard is good news. If it were easy everyone would do it.
Step 1: Decide what kind of company you want to run
As a leader you get to make the decisions. You get to decide the culture you want. The kind of company you want to work in. Culture is not just about your staff. You might only have 1 or 2 employees but you still have a culture. Your culture will determine the type of customers you attract and influence the way your suppliers treat you. This can take a lot of thinking and pondering. Don't expect to get it right straight away. You can always tweak as you go along.
Step 2: Communicate your vision
Once you've decided the type of company you want to build then you have to communicate it to people. A lot of companies choose to have a mission statement or values. Some companies have an on-boarding handbook for new employees explaining the culture to them. Some companies record videos explaining their culture. Do whatever feels right. Don't feel you have to have a mission statement because that's what everyone else does. The way you communicate you culture will say a lot about your culture.
Step 3: Attract the right people
Once you're communicating out to the world then people who identify with your chosen culture will automatically be drawn to it. As humans we like to deal with people who are similar to ourselves. Make sure you're explaining your culture to potential new employees, customers and suppliers. This will have the added benefit of driving away people who are a bad fit for your company.
Step 4: Change
If you already have an existing culture (Top Tip: you do) then there will be some hard work getting from here to where you want to be. You will have to encourage the type of behaviour you want, discourage unwanted behaviour when you see it and coach people to get in line with the changes.
Step 5: Let Go
Unfortunately, sometimes, some people are just a bad fit. We've all had bad fit employees, bad fit customers and bad fit suppliers. We know they're a bad fit (sometimes from day one) and we just have to take the decision to let them go if they can't be persuaded to change. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just the way it is. Everyone will be much happier if they are in a culture that fits with their own preferences.
To Wrap Up
Getting culture right is hard. Lots and lots of hard work. But, the very essence of business is putting in hard work to get the rewards.
There are many rewards for doing the hard work of developing your culture. Being the leader is hard but if you get your culture right then you'll find you have to do less leadership. Culture is what people do when you're away. Culture is self managing, that's why bad cultures are devastating. Cultures encourage more of the same behaviour, that's why it's so important to get it right. It's the difference between having a tough time in business and enjoying business.
Laura Bouttell is a Managing Director at Quarterdeck, a leadership training company, providing in person management training courses to executives.