Many qualities are desirable, perhaps even essential, to run a successful business. To name a few, you’ll rarely find a thriving company without clear leadership, a positive public image or a unique selling point. Even a powerful logo can be a huge advantage over rivals – just ask Nike. A good business also needs a strong and distinctive internal company culture, guiding every employee’s decisions and actions. All the objectives I have just mentioned are hard to achieve but the benefits are definitely worth pursuing. How then can a business go about building a strong company culture? Just as importantly, how can that culture be maintained and developed as the business grows, adding employees or even acquiring companies? Here are my six top tips:
- Be consistent in your vision. Neither the public nor your staff will be able to show loyalty to your brand if the values of that brand keep changing. Yes, you must be flexible when necessary, and willing to admit to mistakes in how you are running the business, but you can’t possibly establish a long-term company culture if you keep changing your mind about how to move forward.
- Hold regular meetings for everyone in the business (which can be attended in person or perhaps by videoconference, as appropriate). Your staff guidelines must be communicated to every member of your team. Across the Luxaviation Group, for example, one of our cultural initiatives is for local teams to meet briefly for ‘Daily Line-Ups’ at 10:00. As part of these meetings, we ensure everybody knows their contribution matters and understands how their role impacts on the overall success of the business. We share information between the locations that make up the group and collectively learn from the experiences of all employees. We involve everybody when forming working strategies or planning a cultural approach, ensuring staff ‘buy-in’. You won’t win many contracts if you don’t win the ‘hearts and minds’ of your own team. Committed employees are priceless, whereas indifferent staff can rapidly become expensive liabilities.
- Ensure your employees don’t just strive to make customers happy but show the same respect and commitment to please when engaging with colleagues. We all know the customer service representative who smiles at clients and snarls at fellow workers.
- Encourage ‘360-degree feedback’, whereby all employees are reviewed (anonymously where appropriate) not just by their managers but also by their colleagues of equivalent rank/peers and the people they manage (sometimes called ‘supervisory’, ‘lateral’ and ‘subordinate’ feedback respectively). This process really helps to ensure a company’s culture is being applied by all staff.
- Respect the fact change is difficult. Whether integrating a new employee or a whole newly acquired business, explain the rationale behind your company’s culture. Don’t just impose rules. As before, you won’t win the hearts and minds of employees if they don’t see any logic behind the guidelines they are being asked to follow and enforce.
- When integrating multiple businesses, implement a structured and realistic plan to harmonise cultures. Respect differences, acknowledging there will not (at least initially) be 100% agreement on every point. Senior management teams need to understand change can be unpopular and plan accordingly.
Ultimately, a strong internal culture must translate into an impressive experience for your clients – who are, after all, your best brand ambassadors. There’s no point (or longevity) having happy employees and miserable customers. We’ve all been to restaurants where the staff seem to be having more fun than the diners. But if your clients realise, as you and your employees know, that your business is special, they will ‘spread the word’ of your excellence for you. Everybody wins.
Patrick Margetson-Rushmore is chief executive of Luxaviation UK.
See also: How to cultivate a good company culture
Seven top ways to improve company culture
Performance consultant Chris Howe, director of ChangeMaker, has the following tips to help you improve your company culture.
Decide what kind of culture you want
Do you want a highly competitive culture or a team-focused culture? Do you want a working environment that encourages rapid growth and embraces change or are you looking for more steady progress?
Growth is based on the efforts of those in the business and those who join in the future. Profit share schemes, from which people will benefit through the growth they create, are for motivating your team and instilling a sense of ownership in the company.
Invest in the culture you want
Lots of people talk about culture but forget that unless you actually live and breathe it, then it is a waste of time. For example, a key element is staff development. Regularly investing in training for your team that steers them towards a particular way of working will help to bring about the culture that you are aiming for.
Be open and frank
Giving regular information about company performance helps to avoid misunderstandings among employees. Keeping your staff informed about achievements across the business, in a weekly newsletter for example, develops interest in its development and engenders a sense of shared responsibility between departments.
A quarterly meeting will also give staff the opportunity to air any view that they feel need to be expressed. Often, unhappy employees want to feel that their opinion is being heard and considered in the first instance. By contrast its an opportunity to mention positive developments and provide updates on ongoing projects.
Set targets and review regularly
Setting individual targets is a good way to let people know how they contribute to the business. Conducting annual appraisals to help people see they are valued and where they can develop further is an effective way of doing this.
Following a review, make sure that your employee is given the proper training to help them achieve the goals that you have set out and re-visit the report to check on progress six months down the line.
Don’t be afraid to reshuffle
Ensuring that you have your staff in the right positions is essential for running an efficient business.
External recruitment is a costly process so if someone is struggling with motivation you may find that you can better use their skills elsewhere. If there is another role that needs filling and their skills or experience fit the bill, you will find that it is cheaper and less time consuming to move them to that position than recruiting someone new.
Socialising is a good way to develop strong bonds between staff members. This doesn’t have to be in the form of an expensive corporate day out, it could be something as simple as a shared departmental meal, perhaps to celebrate a success.
Having the chance to unwind together and be themselves allows your employees to show each other that there is another side to them outside work. After all, people who get along out of working hours, should work better together.
Introduce new staff
An important part of building a company culture is making sure that your employees are a team. For new employees it is especially important that you take the time to introduce them to their fellow team-mates and others around the company. Starting a new position can be daunting and somewhat isolating if you don’t know anyone.