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Defining & Refining Company Culture

You can clearly define and even refine your company’s culture, thus cultivating it to be what you intend it to be. John Allen, President of G&A Partners, shares his insights on 2011 growth for your business. Read on for the full article and visit the Houston Business Journal to share your commentary.

There is an old debate that perpetually ponders the question of whether a person’s character is determined more by genetics or upbringing — nature versus nurture. Can the same question be applied to companies and their cultures? Do corporate cultures merely happen or can they be nurtured? While corporate cultures can and often do evolve naturally, stronger, healthier cultures are those that are nurtured.
This is not to say that your company’s culture can be entirely and deliberately manufactured. At its heart, corporate culture is, after all, the manner in which a company “gets things done.” Management can’t simply create some ideal culture in a vacuum that doesn’t align with the way the company actually operates. However, your company’s culture needn’t come about by pure accident either. You can clearly define and even refine your company’s culture, thus cultivating it to be what you intend it to be. Start with these three steps.
Identify Your Company’s Core Values
A strong company culture, good or bad, reflects the values of the company, its leaders, and its employees. What values define your company? What matters most to you and your employees? Profits, innovation, making a difference, operating with integrity?
If you don’t know, you should. Poll your employees, or better still, ask a new employee. They often have a more genuine perspective on how things work around the company than someone who’s already guzzled the Kool-Aid.
Once you identify your company’s core values, prioritize the three to five values that are most important. In other words, which traits do you want to be known for? Maybe its quality service, environmental consciousness, or just plain fun. Keep in mind, this is not what you do, it is how you do it. An orthopedic surgeon may be skilled at repairing broken bones, but he gets referrals because of his excellent bedside manner and his attentiveness to patients during their recovery.
Align Your Actions to Your Values
It’s not enough to identify your company’s core values. You also have to be able to walk the talk. Tiger Woods enjoyed a reputation for being a remarkable athlete with extraordinary discipline and sound ethics. However, when revelations of his numerous extramarital affairs surfaced, his reputation was forever tarnished. Tiger is still a superior golfer, but no one believes he’s the man he portrayed himself to be.
Your can’t promote your company as being fair and customer-focused and then challenge your customers and undercut your partners at every turn. You’d be better off acknowledging that your company is aggressive and hard-charging, because if you try to pass your company off as something it isn’t, you’ll damage trust among your customers.
Your leaders and employees have to be able to model your company’s values through their actions day after day. How can you help ensure they do that? Institute practices that promote your values and the behaviors you want your employees to emulate. Google, for example, is known for creativity, and they practice what they preach. Through their much-touted 20 Percent Time Project, Google encourages developers to dedicate the equivalent of one day a week to innovative projects that may be outside their job descriptions. Many of Google’s current features and offerings were developed through this initiative.

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Engage Your Employees
The most important, and perhaps the trickiest, piece to this puzzle is engaging employees. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, once said, “The soft stuff is the hard stuff.” In other words, the touchy-feely people-side of business is often the most difficult for leaders to manage well, but that “soft stuff” is key to a company’s success. In his various books, Welch explains how employees who are beyond satisfied and truly engaged in their work will perform at a higher level and go over and above to deliver exceptional customer service, which in turn leads to greater success and higher profits.
Engaging employees is easier said than done. (In fact, it’s never “done” — it requires continuous dedication and focus.) There are, however, some practical tactics that can help engage employees. For starters, remind employees that their job is to help others succeed. If employees truly think in this manner, they will work for each other rather than merely for themselves. Leaders also have to communicate openly, include employees in the decision-making process whenever possible, and seek and provide continuous feedback.
Can you nurture your company’s culture to make it what you want it to be? Absolutely, but it can’t be just a pronouncement. Your culture has to emanate from your core values and your leaders have to model those values. The result will be engaged employees who reflect your culture and values because it’s simply how they do things.

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