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How Do You Build a Company People Love to Work For...and Customers Love to Do Business With?

Entrepreneur advice on how to build a happy employee culture and great customer service

For many entrepreneurs, this sounds like some idealistic dream; some cultural nirvana for their company.

In fact, for most small businesses, accomplishing just one of those two monumental challenges would be great thing. But both? Well, it's not only possible, but if you accomplish one of them, you will almost always accomplish the other.

And it's rooted in a very fundamental premise that I've touched on in the past - how you treat employees and customers are inextricably tied together.

In essence, to create a customer-centric culture, you have to build an employee-centric one!

And there are examples everywhere of companies who have done just that. Companies like Amazon, Southwest Airlines, Trader Joe's, JetBlue, Costco and Starbucks, to just name a few are consistently in Glassdoor's Top 50 Companies to work for and are highlighted in annual surveys by BusinessWeek or MSN Money as providing top flight customer service. There is a connection!

And, how do you go about creating an employee-centric culture?

Well, let's start with just what a culture is. Webster's defines the culture of an organization as the set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterize it. So, then what's critical to your culture will be the attitudes, values, goals and practices you bring to your company or want your company to stand for. Every entrepreneur will have a little different interpretation of those, based on their own background and experiences. To give you some guidance and since I believe in this, fervently, and have brought this concept to bear in every single company I have ever started, run or advised, here's my guidance for you:

Create an environment of mutual trust and respect

No intrigue, no drama. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Encourage your people to do the same. Value their work and their opinions. Respect people's time, inside (have meetings that start and end on time) and outside (they have lives outside the business).

Teamwork is encouraged over individual endeavors - no silos

Treat employees equally

Even if you have them, no "superstar" status for anybody. Crossover training and working should be the order of the day. More functions, less departments. People always wearing multiple hats. Encourage people to just "jump in" when it's "crunch time."

Hold employees accountable

Specifically define their responsibility and some level of authority to carry out their job. They will feel in control and you will be able to hold them accountable. And don't provide "authority on a string," where you can pull it back or overrule on whim.

Provide challenges/encourage risk-taking/allow employees to fail

Establish stretch goals, wherever possible, with employees input and agreement, always. Encourage them to take risks, to try new things, especially new functions, if they seem to have the capability. If they make a mistake, make it a teachable/learnable moment and move on. No recriminations.

Communicate constantly

And face-to-face as often as possible. If you're virtual, use Skype for company meetings; get everybody physically together, as often as practical, especially socially.Nothing beats face time, especially for families to make the company, not just professional, but personal. As you grow, keep all employees posted on what the company's doing and how.When things are tough, everybody should know.You'll surely tell them when things are great! And celebrate victories!

Don't forget - you're allowed to have fun!

Humor is the grease that makes companies run most effectively. Keep it flowing. Don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself. They'll laugh with you as much as at you! You are still one of them. You just had the idea before they did! 

Building a company that employees love to work for and customers love to business with is no minor task. It takes a lot fundamental work and it starts with creating an employee-centric culture. And that starts with the very first employee you hire and goes from there. In our next post, I'll show you how focusing on your employees will make growing your culture into a customer-centric one, a lasting and rewarding effort.

"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things. He's been there. May success be with you!

Have you seen the connection, first hand, between building a company employees love to work for and customers love doing business with?. Please share your experience in your comments. It can help another entrepreneur.

If you like this post, by all means, share it with your networks and colleagues.


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