Culture. It seems to be the buzzword of the decade and it's becoming nearly impossible to discus a company without culture popping up. Thousands of articles have been written about how amazing companies are based on an evaluation of their culture. Every job posting on Earth now has a paragraph touting culture. Every job seeker in the market, when in an interview, will inevitably ask "Can you tell me a bit about your culture?".
So, what is it? More importantly, how to you grow and maintain a healthy culture?
As I mentioned above, almost every job posting on earth includes a blurb about the overall feel of the company. For better or worse, these paragraphs are all strikingly similar. "We're really fun!" or "We're incredibly passionate!" or "Company X puts it's employees first!". These are all great catch phrases aimed at attracting talent, but common sense tells you that not every company can have an amazing culture.
So are they just lying? Probably not. The culture blurb was probably written by an exec or at the direction of one. Unfortunately a lot of leadership can be out of touch with lower levels of their business. Just because you commissioned a re-design of your website doesn't make your entire company "future focused". You may have a new Mac and modern desk, but when your entry level employees sit on their 7 year old Toshiba in their beige 1970's cubicle, "future focus" is going to seem incredibly disingenuous. Of course, this is just one general example of key phrase disconnect, but with a bit of effort you can make your perfectly crafted message into a culture reality!
The Right Hire
A resume, or list of skills & experience, is a great start to the process, but shouldn't be your number one priority when bring on new people. There are tons of nice resumes out there, but you need to find the right person, not the right paperwork. Priority number one should be to hire for passion, attitude, and personality. Look for commitment and a go-getter mentality. Experience, transcripts, and credentials are all important, but they're not the things influencing your work environment.
Ask your prospective employee some probing questions: What are you passionate about? What did you dislike at your last work place? What motivates you? Make your higher more than a place filler. If you search out people with similar goals and vision, then you have allies driving your business. There is nothing worst than having to drag entire teams towards a future they're not passionate about striving for.
Everyone seems to value innovation and creative thinking, but without ambitious leaders these tendencies are all too often squashed. Set lofty goals, strive to new heights, and attempt the improbable. It's easy to motivate your teams when they have someone to admire, and nobody has ever admired the timid guy glued to the manual.
"I want to put a ding in the universe." - Steve Jobs
Remember above where I provided the 'future focused' example? Embarrassing moments highlighting how out of touch leadership is can be avoided by simply being accessible to your staff. Open door policies, company events, and informal one-on-ones can all be invaluable tools to facilitate honest conversations at every level. Listen to your employees and share your ideas with them. When everyone feels like they can be open with each other, there are measurable improvements not only in tangible problems brought up, but to attitudes and morale as well.
The art of communication tends to put the stress on talking, but listening is equally important. Great cultures grow around people who listen, not just to each other or to their clients and stakeholders. It’s also important to listen to what’s happening outside your walls. What is the market saying? What is the zeitgeist? What developments, trends, and calamities are going on?
It's easy to get caught up in hiring the general demographic of your industry, but it's VITALLY important to foster diversity in your company. The more benign side effect of ignoring this goal is a lack of fresh ideas. When everyone is of the same background, same social status, same whatever, you tend to get a lot of the same ideas. Different viewpoints can expand your market, create valuable debate, and add immense value to your organization. The energy generated by a group of unique individuals is tangible and creates a much better atmosphere than a single thought being regurgitated 20 times in different font.
The more serious argument for diversity? Well, Snapchat put out a "yellow-face" filter.
While work overload is something that should be avoided, it's almost impossible to find a company that can perfectly enforce a 40 hour work week these days. It's important to recognize people who go above and beyond in order to produce results. Toeing the line between slave driver and appreciative boss can be hard, but it's an important skill to learn. Consistently giving EmployeeA awards because she's single and works 60 hours a week can discourage employees unable to accommodate such an unreasonable schedule. However, if your accounting team puts in a few extra hours at the end of the quarter it is important to recognize their work ethic. Knowing your extra effort is appreciated, but not mandated, enforces dedication to the job and cultivates trust. It's nice to know that if you need a data point at 7pm someone will return your text.
Finding the right people made the top spot on this list, but almost equally important is weeding out the wrong people. A positive environment is a delicate thing, and it really only takes a couple of people to sour your culture. (Wait, was that a dairy joke?)
Constant negativity, extreme reactions to feedback, stonewalling new ideas, fueling office drama... some things are easy to spot, while others are much more covert, but the real danger here is that pessimism spreads. Seeds of doubt blossom into mistrust and the constant crushing of innovation trains people to stop trying. Bad apples can have disastrous effects at every level, but can be especially calamitous in management positions. Turn over is hard, but replacing Negative Nacy is vital to creating a thriving culture.
Have you ever spent an entire day in your basement? Probably not, but imagine for a moment how that would make you feel. Our surroundings can have drastic effects on mood, productivity, and cognitive function. A windowless cube farm isn't helping anyone become a stellar employee. Sunshine, open concepts, spaces for collaboration (such as a comfortable break room or cafeteria) and basic aesthetics keep employees happy. Happy, comfortable people produce better results, collaborate more with co-workers, and have more enthusiasm for their job.
The Big Picture
Business fluctuates almost every day and it's easy to see a good culture when you're goals are being met. However, it's important not to hamper your culture with short-term thinking. If there are problems, address them. However, if you can't find something to fix, it is foolish to reduce moral over an uncontrollable market dip. So you didn't hit your targets this quarter? Focus on the year. Focus on the next 5 years. As the saying goes, "You catch more flies with honey" and employees work better when motivated towards a goal than the when discouraged about fluctuation they can not control.
Hire the right people, share your biggest dreams with them, listen to them. Celebrate differences, applaud hard work, and don't be afraid to make changes for the common good. Build the most amazing team you can and provide them with an environment that optimizes their work. A thriving culture will produce stellar results and help leadership, employees, and the company as a whole reach long term goals with ease.