Five Concrete Steps to Lay the Foundation for Your Company Culture

December 15, 2016 @ 11:32 am posted by David Finkel (Taxloopholes.com Advisor)

I’ve been starting and scaling companies for 20 years now. And over that time I’ve coached hundreds of entrepreneurs to successfully scale their companies too.

I believe strongly in well-designed processes and replicable business systems. But what happens when someone on your team faces a novel situation that just isn’t “covered” in the systems that you’ve developed?

One answer is to require your team member to check with their manager, but I think we can likely agree that this solution is less than ideal.

What we all want as business leaders is to give our team what they need to autonomously do great work and make smart business decisions, even in ambiguous circumstances for which you’ve never explicitly told them what you’d like them to do.

The solution to this challenge lies in your company culture – the “way” your company views, prioritizes, and behaves to get things done. Your culture are the sum total of your values, beliefs, traditions, and accepted standards of behavior.

Here is a simple 5 step process to intentionally lay the foundation for your company’s culture.

Step One: Clarify your company’s core values.

Your company’s values are the filters through which you want your team to make any tough decision.

How do you want your team to treat a customer in an emotionally loaded moment?

How do you want your team to treat each other when they see things differently?

How do you want your team to make a decision about how to prioritize their likely overfull to do lists?

What do you want the mood and feeling to be in your office?

When you list out your company’s core values, consider adding in a statement that can be behaved. This gives your values a concrete quality that is easier for your team to internalize.

For example, with my business coaching company, Maui Mastermind, two of our company values are:

  • “We do what we say we’ll do and hold other people accountable to the same standard.” (Notice we say it this way versus just to say “integrity”. It’s hard to behave “integrity”, but it is easy to expect to do what we say we’ll do.)
  • “We eat our own cooking.” (This is our way of clarifying to our team that we follow our own business coaching best practices. We create our own 1-page quarterly action plan every 90 days and do our weekly “Big Rock Reports” just like we coach our clients to.)

Again, notice how both these values we used short, simple statements to make our values clear behaviorally. This has proven to be an effective way to lay out your company values, and one which many of our business coaching clients have modelled.

Step Two: Create a written draft of what you want your company’s culture to be.

Over the next 30 days, set aside a few 45-60 minute blocks of time to just journal on paper what you want your company’s culture to look like. What behaviors would be the norm at your company? How would someone be able to observe how your team has internalize your company values in their day-to-day job? What would an outside observer notice about the feel of your company if they spent the day in your offices?

Step Three: Get a reality check — How does your company currently line up on your vision of what you want your culture to be?

Imagine you were an outsider looking in, where would you notice things aligning or not aligning between the observed culture and your desired culture?

Ask your leadership for their observations and feelings on this. They will likely see things differently than you. Welcome their perspective and use their input to inform this process over time. And this is a process that unfolds over time, not just a “sit down one time” event.

Step Four: Concretely do five things every week to reinforce your company culture.

This could include:

  • Send out a company-wide email retelling the story of the victory.
  • Highlight an example of a great team member behavior at a meeting.
  • Look for and share company-wide small occurrences in the company that symbolize deeper values you want the company to absorb.
  • Intentionally make the hard decision that shocks your team into learning how seriously you believe in your values.
  • Role model the behavior you want them to internalize – be consistent with it.

Step Five: Revisit and revise your written description of your company culture until you feel it reflects just what you want it to be.

It takes time to feel out what you want your culture to be. But the value of investing in creating the right company culture for your business is worth the investment of time and attention.

For example, a friend and former client of mine, Stephanie was able to nurture such a strong culture at her 100 person manufacturing company that it ran profitably for 23 years before she and her husband sold the company for a 20 times multiple.

Remember, culture is the invisible hand that shapes behavior and tells people how to behave when no one is watching.

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