In business, they say a great idea is worthless without great execution. Taking that a step further, even great execution sometimes can't salvage a company with poor culture. Brilliance alone might be able to get a firm up and running, and things might even carry on swimmingly for a few years.
But, in time, if a company doesn't focus on building the principles of a successful culture, the business will begin to unravel. With a hollow foundation, management will be leading a rudderless ship, employees will tune out, and everyone will just end up going through the motions. Indeed, what started as a fantastic idea and excellent business model will inevitably fall apart.
This doesn't have to be you. And, fortunately, a lot of the key factors in creating a thriving culture are very simple. Here are three critical components that can help your company better define its company culture.
1. Fitting Culture to Organization
Most organizations already have some sort of built-in culture, and this (usually) is a good thing. Rather than demolish everything and start from scratch with ideas from the latest CEO bestseller, work within your means and with the principles you have already set forth; after all, you likely have instituted a good, solid framework of values and principles that have helped the company attain success. Now, it's all about defining and refining them.
Ultimately, you want to get to a point where there's an organization-wide understanding of what the company strives to be. If that means creating a competitive environment built on hitting sales numbers and quotas – and sticking around until 8 p.m. to make that happen – then perhaps that's befitting of your workplace. Then again, your company's core values might prioritize everyone leaving at 5 p.m. and offering flexible schedules that give employees a proper work-life balance.
Or, perhaps the guiding principle isn't about behavior as much as outcomes. Some of the best companies have a lot of operational diversity from department to department. But even if attitudes differ, what everyone in a leadership position – from marketing and customer service to sales and IT – demands is high-quality results.
Not everything has to be warm and fuzzy. Just because it's trendy, you don't need to follow the Silicon Valley model of filling an office with pool tables, beanbag chairs, and smoothie machines. Instead, start by understanding what your company is already about and how to accentuate the positive, stamp out the negative, and get everyone – from the shop floor to the top floor – on board with the core goals and mission.
2. Knowing Who You Are
Knowledge of self is fundamental, as coaches often preach this in sports. It's less important to have a team that plays in one specific style than it is to cultivate a team that knows what it is. If you're a hard-nosed, tough, defensive squad, play that way and make sure everyone is on the same page. Or, you can be a sleek, offensive machine that uses quickness and creativity to confuse the opponent. Either way is fine.
Some teams win with defense, some win with offense. Some teams have players who are best friends on and off the field, while others keep it strictly professional. Any option can work; you just need to understand what makes you tick and how that drives success. Discovering what you are and building toward that is the real key.
There are many ways to succeed while being yourself. One thing nobody can ever do, however, is become someone else. This isn't just a life lesson for teenagers, but an axiom that thriving companies embrace – either knowingly or just as a byproduct of the way management has developed the organization.
3. Demanding Improvement and Evolution
One final issue that world-class companies confront is complacency. Complacency can be a killer, as a lack of leadership and inability to innovate has taken down many household names – like Kodak, Blockbuster, and Xerox – despite decades of success. No matter how you define company culture, it must adapt and evolve with the times. In this vein, embracing technology is the most obvious value to instill.
Salespeople are notoriously difficult to convince. But all except the oldest and most stubborn have come to realize how lead generation and customer management tools can transform their work. Customer service reps should similarly get up to date. Management should be bringing in sophisticated call center cloud infrastructure that can make their jobs more intuitive and rewarding.
And everyone in all departments needs to understand the importance of data security and privacy regulations. With all the reputational fallout from headline news incidents in recent years, this is now mandatory for all company cultures. Beyond technology, this also means adapting to modern sensibilities. Millennial attitudes may be the butt of many jokes, but this much is clear: The younger generations of today represent the employees of tomorrow – and they simply think about work differently.
The Power of Culture
Ultimately, the key to defining company culture is sitting right there in the concept: Define. The exact ins and outs or what an organization considers important are less important than ensuring those values and core principles are clear, consistent, and adhered to over the long term. It can't just be a sign on the wall, but rather something all employees practice and preach.
Doing something a certain way – day after day, year after year – is how the greatest companies build their cultures. It won't be built in a day, but neither was Rome. Just keep working toward the ideals, and remember to evolve and adapt, much like society must do.
Understanding this and adapting to changes must be part of any culture. Few companies are run exactly how they were 40 years ago or have maintained the same old attitudes about the workplace. And you know why? Because all those that refused no longer have their doors open.
Michael Haberman is cofounder and senior HR consultant of Omega HR Solutions Inc. His company offers HR solutions that include compliance reviews, wage and hour guidance, supervisory and managerial training, strategic guidance, executive advisement, and more. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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