Leadership

How to Build the Best Company Culture

Maria Bellissimo-Magrin
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Every company likes to think they have a great culture but ask the leadership to pin down precisely what theirs is and most will give a pretty vague, airy answer or they won’t match.

This is because most companies don’t actually have a culture. Often in the corporate world you get an amalgamation of cultures or distinct cultures that coexist. It’s hard to have a defined culture in a large company because rapid growth, mergers and generational gaps put invisible walls up within the building that is the corporation.

Culture is easily defined in smaller companies as founders, CEOs and early employees create that culture as a means of moving forward, making decisions and driving growth – but this can easily dilute or evolve in different strands. Culture is like a mirror reflecting the personalities of the group and when a company gets to the point where it’s not just impractical but nigh on impossible to know the names of every employee that mirror fragments.

The problem is no-one seems to notice and over time the company comes to accept or even believe that their mosaic mirror is just how things are supposed to be. In short, they give up trying to build a culture and successful or not it’s holding them back from achieving their full potential. So where to start?

Respect it

Culture must be built with the same diligence afforded to products or services. It needs nurturing, it can’t just be left to its own devices. The benefit of crafting this new, defined culture is enhanced communication, a group wide structure for decision-making and a framework that gets everyone pulling in the same direction.

Culture of leadership

In the halcyon days of the company’s inception the culture came from the founders and this is where it must start again. Culture is set and shaped by the leadership so they must embody the culture they want to create. Senior management must project the culture even if it is a change from how they’ve worked for years. Everyone must pull in the same direction; it might be hard to start but there can be no turning back to the old ways.

Structure of motivation

One of the best motivational tools is to show your employees they are valued. This is where you need to really hone in on the structure of the business. Culture is driven by structure so the hierarchy must respect and reflect the way you want to operate. Each department should have a direct link to the board – small teams with 6 degrees of separation from the board are just going to feel unimportant and that’s not good for business. Value your employees and give them clear and direct lines to the decision makers. Go one better and make them part of the defining of the culture; ask them what they like about the company culture as it is and what they’d like to change. Use their ideas: they probably know a lot more about productive process than the board does.

Involving your employees, truly valuing their opinions and insight is a cornerstone of a motivational culture. It won’t guarantee all of your employees will be happy and motivated but at the very least it will create an environment that identifies and solves problems before they snowball.

Communicate

Most importantly of all, you must communicate your culture. Continuously, explicitly and unapologetically. It must encompass all lest it become a hollow statement. You have to feed it into every aspect of your business so your employees absorb it fully, understand its importance and naturally project it. The employees that excel at this must be rewarded.

To keep the burgeoning culture on track and senior management leading from the front you need to appoint a Culture Tsar – a champion and standard setter for culture constantly communicating your culture goals. It’s important it’s not just a ceremonial position – culture has to be taken seriously and someone needs to be recognisably responsible for it. They’ll need a deputy or two as well. These are the people who will sit in on interview panels and push your recruitment in the right direction. Not only does it ensure you get the right cultural fit when hiring but it shows potential employees how serious you are about culture and that’s impressive to people who take their career seriously.

As your company grows and faces new challenges your culture will help maintain success and adapt seamlessly to an ever-changing business environment. Over time your culture will be second nature and you can be comforted in the knowledge that even if you don’t know all of their names, you know all of your employees.

Attitude isn’t everything. But it sure helps. Maria certainly wouldn’t have become a CEO of a full-service creative marketing agency without it. She started out in the industry 15 years ago and has done so well because she offers the perfect blend of design, PR and social media. Her aim? Her aim? To make marketing easy, so you can spend your time on more important stuff.

See all articles by Maria Bellissimo-Magrin(14)
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Comments (1)
Definitely a great write up. Culture is very important. The main point that it can't just become a hollow statement is doubly important. Employees need to see the actions behind the words (in fact they may just need to see the actions).

When only lip-service is paid to culture, people will bemoan meetings that come off as totally tone deaf. If you are telling them to do as you say and not as you do, you're setup for losing great employees and undermining the goals of your company.
Jef Lippiatt Owner at Startup Chucktown

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