Some organizational cultures are laid-back and chill. Some are edgy and hip. Some are fast-paced and full-throttled, while others are buttoned down and deliberate. Culture underpins the behavioral expectations and ethical standards of a company. It also dictates the style and character of the firm and determines the type and caliber of talent that is attracted to it.
You might think that culture just happens or that it somehow evolves as a business develops, and thus start-ups don’t have or need a defined culture. But the fact is that the seeds of a business’ culture are planted at its foundation. More and more entrepreneurs are giving careful consideration to the kind of business culture they want to create and are viewing culture as an essential component of their business strategy.
The culture of an organization influences how managers and employees act and interact as they do their work. It also determines how they think about and represent the company outside of work hours. So how does an entrepreneur go about defining and building a business culture?
A key first step is to determine your core values. These might include honesty, transparency, and fairness. Or you might focus on qualities such as creativity, innovation, and problem-solving.
You need to decide whether yours will be a culture of individuality or whether it will have a team orientation. And you need to give thought to the types of sensibilities, attitudes, and behaviors you want to encourage and promote among your employees. The values you emphasize will become the performance and ethics standards of your business, and it’s up to you to communicate them through words and actions.
As the owner, you and your senior leadership team must model the principles you espouse and own the culture-shaping process. Like any business strategy, the process of shaping culture must be supported by resources and guided by a systematic execution plan.
Institutional practices, systems, and performance measures need to drive toward the desired culture, including communication, training and HR practices, performance management, and remuneration – even space allocation and physical environment.
Hiring people with values and ethics that are similar to yours is as important as weighing their experience and qualifications for the job. Use your core values to shape the questions you ask candidates in the interview process. Develop open-ended questions that will require them to reveal their values. Look and listen for people who embody your values, who will fit in, and who will reinforce your business culture.
As your business grows, integrate your core values into your procedures, policies, and business documents, and into the language you use to train, coach, and counsel employees. Include a discussion of your values in meetings and build it into your decision-making processes. Let people know they are part of something larger, and hold managers and employees accountable to these standards.
Is it worth your attention? You bet. At its best, your corporate culture can be a competitive advantage; at its worst, it can be a significant drag on business results.