I recently worked with a company which highlighted to me how incredibly important company culture is to the success/failure of a business. Without them even realising it the directors behaviour and their response (or lack of it) to certain management situations was having a HUGE detrimental knock-on effect on their staff motivation and morale and in turn on their bottom line - costing them missed sales, the loss of valueable members of staff who no longer wanted to work in that environment, and some seriously negative branding and reputation within their local community from their disgruntled staff members.
Company culture is one of those elements of business management that often gets overlooked, because it's intangible people forget that it can, and should, be consciously developed and managed. However, managed well it can be one of your greatest assest, and managed poorly it can be one of the biggest expenses and liabilities.
So, what exactly IS culture? Well, for me when I think about culture, I'm talking about the (usually unspoken) set of guidelines and values about how a company's staff (from director right through to cleaner) interact and behave towards one another within the company, and with suppliers and clients outside the company. It's similar to being in a family - each family has a, largely unspoken, set of values which determines what behaviour is and isn't acceptable within their family unit. Just as the parents would usually be responsible for deciding on their family values and educating their children on what behaviour was/wasn't deemed appropriate, the directors are reponsible for that role of culture management within their staff and their company.
So, how do you manage your company culture? Well, as with parenting, the first step is always to lead by example, if you want to develop a company culture of efficiency, loyalty and honesty you must ALWAYS demonstrate those behaviours yourself. If you are not loyal to your staff you cannot expect them to be loyal to your company, if you deliver late on promises to your team you cannot expect them to always deliver on time for your clients - you have to lead by example. "Do as I say, not as I do" will not work here! And when situations arise where behaviours are not congruent with your desired culture you must address the issue quickly and openly, so staff are always clear what is and isn't acceptable and so the same situation doesn't arise again.
Does culture always have to be conscious? Well no not necessarily, some directors are naturally good at understanding their company values and conveying their culture to their staff without conscious thought - and certainly this is easier in a smaller team where the directors often work closely with their staff and know them personally. However, as a company grows it becomes more and more important for your culture and values to be specifically communicated and clearly defined and to ensure that everyone on your managment team is both aware of, and congruent with it, so that it is passed down and upheld throughout the company.
So how do you decide what you want your company culture to be? Well, a good starting place is taking some time to consciously decide what your core business values are - what does your company really stand for - what's your mission statement? What's the key driver behind your company? What would the deal-breakers be? What work ethic do you expect or want to cultivate from your staff? What level of communication do you expect within your team? What level of transparency do you want within your company? Do you want a culture of management or independence? How do you expect your managers to treat your staff and your staff to treat each other?.......Then you need to decide where your boundaries are and how you'll deal with situations when those boundaries are crossed. Once you've reached a clear definition in your head you need to start communicating those values and that culture to your staff - you need to commit to it personally and always act in-line with it, you need to make hiring decisions in line with it and you need to uphold it and enforce it throughout the company, acting swiftly and decisively to correct situations when boundaries are crossed and communicating clearly why that isn't acceptable within your company.
And is this effort worth it?? ABSOLUTELY!! Company culture is SO SO important, it's one of the first things your customers will pick up on as it directly affects how your staff treat them and it can make you sales or it can lose you sales. It can help you identify who's a good hire for your company, and who wouldn't be - saving you time and money in having to fire and replace mis-hires. It can be the difference between high staff turnover costing you a fortune in recruitment fees and actually ATTRACTING high quality, motivated staff who want to work for your company and who stay much longer because of the loyalty you've built. It can be the difference between having a team of current and ex-employees who are your biggest brand ambassadors, promoting you positively within your local community, or a team who are your biggest critics, unconsciously putting off anyone who was maybe considering doing business with you - if they treat their staff like that, imagine how they treat their customers!
Building a strong company culture shouldn't be overlooked, at it's extremes it can make or break your company, and if you're still a young, growing business you're in the perfect position to define that culture now, start off strong and build on it as you continue to grow. If you're reading this and realising you've got an established company that perhaps needs some more work in this area don't panic, there's always steps that can be taken to get you moving back towards the right track.