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Your Company Culture: You Can Drive It...or You Can Just Let It Happen!

Culture is what your company stands for

Having "parachuted into" a number of ugly turnaround situations, I've seen small company culture, from a lot of perspectives, often very bad. But all had one commonality...they never really paid much attention to culture. I've also built companies that from the get-go reflected and were driven by what I believed and my own value system about how employees, customers and suppliers should be treated.

Culture is what your company stands for - the values and beliefs it is built upon. But, how culture comes about is both simple and complex. Simple, in that it will evolve, whether you plan for it or not. At its basic level, it is the soul of an enterprise and starts with the values the founder(s) bring to it and evolves from there. Complex, in that it is formed by interaction with employees, customers and suppliers, alike.

So you can pay little attention to your culture but it will still evolve, starting simply with founder values, and getting more complicated by how those values are put into play with each decision made and associated interaction. Or you can drive it, by making those values and beliefs permeate how the decisions are made, interactions occur and how the company is operated. It's really up to the founder(s) as to how or whether a culture evolves or is driven by those values and those interactions.

Even the best of companies loses its way with its culture.

I started my career at IBM where the culture was "respect for the individual" and we lived it every day from the way we treated each other, were treated by management and how we treated customers and suppliers.

But sometimes even the best of cultures gets off track and by the early 90s, the company had lost its way, both business-wise and culturally. It had become a bloated, bureaucratic mess (I had long since moved on) with a paternalistic, almost government-like culture.

The company brought in its first outside CEO, Lou Gerstner, who had to come in and not only turn the company around, financially, but, dramatically, change the culture, which is like turning a battleship. He did it, but it took more than three years and lots of pain and suffering, internally, with massive layoffs and externally, with customers fleeing and suppliers being less amenable or trusting.

5 Critical Elements That Should Drive Your Culture

Whether you're a startup, trying to create a winning culture for your company, or you're a small business that's been around for a while and either hasn't been paying much attention to your culture, or worse, don't like what has evolved, here are five critical elements that will drive your culture (or you can let them evolve - your choice):

  1. Your personal values (and personality)

    Building a company, as many of you will find out or have found out, is like raising a child. The founder's personal values will, consciously or unconsciously, dictate the fundamental basis for how the company operates. And values aren't slogans or bumper stickers, but what you stand for. Your personality also will play a role, no matter how hard you try to avoid it.

    Like your child, your company will either be driven by you or evolved to be something like you! So you have a choice. What kind of company do you want to be?

  2. Your image in the marketplace

    This carries my last point a little further. How do you want your company to be viewed or positioned in the marketplace? You have a choice. Your website can look like it was thrown together, "because we need to have one," or it can be, thoughtfully, put together to be informative and inviting to prospective customers.

  3. Employee interaction

    The basis of your culture, should be "in the walls," and communicated with everything you do. If your culture is working, employees should feel like they're part of something bigger than themselves. Even if there are only a few of them, they should each know what's expected of them and they should have the tools to carry out those responsibilities, so they can be held accountable.

    And accountability should mean they can make mistakes and learn from them. And it should be a fun place to work; a place with a sense of humor; a place that breeds teamwork. And as important, employees should feel like they are growing, hopefully, both professionally and personally, and that they are valued.

  4. Customer interaction

    Customers should be a beneficiary of the culture. They will be treated the way the company and the culture treat the employees and the way employees are motivated to treat them.

    My mantra regarding customers is that they should feel "like they are your only customer."

    But it's more than that. It means that the values and beliefs you stand for are represented in your business relationship.

  5. Supplier/contractor interaction

    Suppliers and contractors should be partners in the culture because they are partners in the business. They help you deliver results to your customer. They should be treated and valued as such. Plus, remember, they are business owners as well.

Your company's culture is its soul. It starts to take shape from the earliest days of operation, its first customer, employee and supplier. How that culture grows is up to you. You can let it evolve and then take your chances that it ends up where you want it to. Or, you can plan and drive it, by your values and beliefs, in the way you operate and guide the company every day. Your choice!

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

What's the culture of your company? Has it evolved or has it been planned and driven? 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.

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