Unfortunately, too frequently, business leaders and owners have over-estimated the health of their company culture. Each of us tends to consider the company we’ve founded as spectacular because it is our baby, our wunderkind. Sadly, the reality is often that our company culture is NOT spectacular, and much closer to ordinary or worse. Don’t ignore the obvious flaws in your company’s culture. If you do, you will be forced into dealing with the harsh realities later, and often at the time when you can least afford the time to react thoughtfully.
Here are some statistics about culture that should scare the daylights out of you. A 2014 report on employee engagement and organizational culture indicated that a full 64% of all surveyed employees were unable to see signs of a strong culture in their workplace. That’s right; I said 64%. Ouch! Another scary statistic: 70% of employees at US-based companies reported feeling disengaged from their company in another study. That’s right, 70%! Oh my, those numbers frighten me. In another study, research indicated that only 41% of employees actually know and understand what their company stands for because the leadership is not doing a good job of communicating clearly about their values, mission, and vision of the company. Wow! We can do better than that, can’t we? Of course, we can. Here is a more positive statistic: Companies with enthusiastically engaged employee associates typically outperform those whose employees are NOT engaged by well over 100%. In fact, the research indicated that the delta between the top performing companies and the rest was greater than 200 percent! That’s a nice Return on an Investment in culture and engagement, isn’t it?
So how do you start to build culture and engagement in your organization, you ask? Your company must have Values, Mission and Vision statements that guide everything in the business, from strategic planning and operational planning through meetings and decision making and onward to performance management and employee development. Your values have to indicate clearly to everyone what your company values, how you conduct business, and how you and your team will measure and evaluate your success. With a strong and unwavering day to day emphasis on your core values, you will send a clear message to your customers, prospects partners and colleagues that your culture is about a consistent execution of your commitments with the achievement of the most important and impactful results and accomplishments. You need to weave your values and mission and vision into everything and make them relevant and real. Too many companies pretend to care about values and their vision. When that happens, accountability goes out the window. If you are consistent and congruent at all times with the values you stand for, everyone knows what to expect and what to focus on. Simple, and yet, not enough companies get it done.
Accept and embrace that you and your leadership team must take ownership of your company culture by launching it and then nurturing it along with your entire team as you live it! It’s yours to influence, and each decision that you make, and each priority that you choose to pursue reinforces your culture over time. Your people will see every move you make and hold your actions up next to your values to ensure that your culture is not just talk. Make it real by being sure to understand that you are influential and that your entire leadership team is influential, and so are all of your other associates who make decisions and choices in running the business over time. Each choice and each decision made are sculpting your culture, and creating the masterpiece. The development of culture never ends, it just keeps on living and breathing and changing. Take care to make it live and breathe in a way that reflects your values and makes a positive statement about you and your company.
Decide early on, how you want your voice to sound and resonate in the business. Your personal voice, your voice as a founder, and the various voices of your leadership team all need to sound like the same voice, and they need to be clear and authentic. Your voice needs to ‘clearly’ state something like this: “This is who we are, and this is why we are this way.” Do not allow any confusion and do not allow inconsistency between the voices on your leadership team. If every member of the leadership team is consistently on message and engaged in uplifting conversations, there will be little chance of confusion or chaos. Your voices need to speak about the purpose of the company and the intent of the team as you serve customers so that everyone will know what is expected and what is acceptable. Set the standards high and do not lower them, and things will ascend to that level and stay there. Speaking clearly and with one authentic voice creates purpose and adds meaning for your team, so that they can enthusiastically pursue your cause. Remember that communication of the message must happen clearly and consistently, and for the message to resonate and have staying power, you may need to err on the side of over-communication, that’s OK.
By establishing strong core values for your company that aligns your mission and vision with what you believe in, you set in motion a structure that supports your highly motivated associates who are passionately engaged because they feel like they belong to a cause… your cause! What a wonderful way to establish and build a healthy culture that leads to consistent winning for you and your team!
Michael is a serial entrepreneur who is passionate about culture and how important it is to ambitious business leaders. Michael works with small and medium sized companies across the United States to help them build winning culture and teamwork and to deliver ambitious results. If you’d like a FREE Best Practices document with ten great ideas about how you can build a winning culture in your organization, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll reply with your Best Practices.