5 Critical Steps for Young Companies to Create a Culture That Drives Success.
The culture an entrepreneur creates can be the single biggest factor in not only driving success, but attracting the employees and customers it needs to sustain that success.But understand, a culture will evolve without a lot of conscious effort, sometimes good, sometimes, not so good. But no matter, it will, just about always, reflect the environment and the management style the founder creates.
From the "get-go," every decision an entrepreneur makes, especially around how employees and customers are treated, virtually, becomes policy. While employees and customers can exist in almost any kind of culture, even the toxic ones, the more conscious thought and work that goes into creating the culture you really want the better the environment for growing employees and customers, and therefore, the company.
So, keeping that in mind, let me give you some guidance about how to "get the culture right," initially, and maintaining it as you go through the trials, tribulations and growth spurts of your young company. Here are five steps toward building a winning culture:
1. You're allowed to have fun!
Keep a light hand at the tiller. This doesn't mean you have to be a standup comic as the owner, but it does mean that laughter and fun can be as much a part of the business as deadlines and deliverables. Find ways to bring and keep levity in the business. T-shirts, funny hats and other types of physical signs that say, "we're enjoying what we do," make the environment, even with the stress an early stage company goes through, not only bearable, but actually a fun place to be. Examples abound, but one of the best is Southwest Airlines. Their commercials, actually, reflect the culture their founder, Herb Kelleher, developed and encouraged from day one. And, they have the lowest turnover of any major airlines. Fun is a big part of that.
2. Make respect a foundation element.
I've frequently noted, we are a product of our environment. My earliest days in business with IBM formed a lot of who and what I became as an entrepreneur and a manager. In those days, IBM's culture was defined by "respect for the individual." As I started and grew, or fixed various businesses, I learned how important that was. To really create a successful culture, every individual with whom the company has an interaction should be treated with respect, whether they are employees, customers or suppliers. We are all fellow human beings. Now, this isn't some pollyannaish notion. If you give respect, invariably, you get respect. That's the beginning of real growth for a company.
3. Sales isn't just a function; it's what drives the business - celebrate success.
No matter the industry, no company can exist without sales. But a sale doesn't just happen from one department or function, but, invariably, happens because of the efforts of multiple folks within your company who support the sales effort, indirectly. From how you answer the phone to the level of quality with which you develop and deliver your products to how quickly (and well) you follow up customer inquiries or support questions. In fact, as most companies find out pretty quickly, follow on sales to the same customer are always based on how well their needs and expectations were met during the first sale. And when a sale closes make everybody a part of the effort. Celebrate every major sale (early on every sale is major) whether with a pizza lunch or just a gong that you bang when an order gets placed. The more memorable (and that doesn't mean expensive, the better), the better. This is important because it recognizes not just the sales person, who, even though they may get a commission, becomes a "hero of the moment," but it's a celebration of the sale as a team event, because many folks were responsible behind the scenes for making it happen.
4. Be employee-centric.
From your first employee, each and every one should feel respected (as I noted in point #2 above), valued and challenged to grow. Too many entrepreneurs are short-sighted when it comes to their employees. They are not just an expense, but the folks who make your dreams a reality. You can't do it alone. From the engineer who designs the product to assembly worker who puts it together to the shipping clerk who packages it and ships it out. They are all important...and should feel that way. Get to know them. Create social functions for them to interact with you and with others in the company. Think about providing benefits that help them grow while helping keep them in the company, like paying for courses they take that can help them in their job (with payment tied to grade results). Help them to grow, professionally, by putting them in positions that challenge their talent and build their skills. Finally, if possible make them owners or, at least tie some element of compensation to performance. Being employee-centric will pay great dividends. Remember, employees will treat customers the way they themselves are treated.
5. Stay hungry, stay foolish and keep the music playing.
A quote from Steve Jobs (that he actually stole from Stewart Brand in his seminal publication,The Whole Earth Catalog) and a reference to a blog post of mine about keeping the entrepreneurial spirit alive. Maintaining a good culture is an ongoing, never-ending proposition. As you grow, you can't let the company lose that special feeling everybody felt in the early days. Think of it like any relationship. If you don't work at it, it becomes stale, and maybe, just goes away. Be on constant alert to keep it fresh, never losing the hunger and the fun of the early days, simply finding bigger and better ways of fulfilling them.
The culture you create is the "soul of your enterprise." It is the foundation upon which your success will be built. Use the steps described above to help develop a culture that will attract both the employees and customers you need for that success.
"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things. He's been there. May success be with you!
What's the culture in your company and how has it evolved? Please share your thoughts in your comments. It can help another entrepreneur.
If you like this post, by all means, share it with your networks and colleagues.