Written by Jeff Naeem
Company culture is a feeling, an emotional component. It’s how all the stakeholders—employees, owners and customers—interact with the business. Simply put: The product or service that the company delivers is its function, but the feeling people have working on that product or service and the feeling that clients have buying that product or service is the culture.
Where does an organization’s culture come from? It’s an outgrowth of the founder’s passion. The culture encompasses shared values of the people who work together every day to produce results and impact the world around them.
What Is a Healthy Company Culture?
Ask yourself these questions: What makes for a healthy and positive company culture? What can negatively impact culture? Who owns the culture?
A healthy culture exists when everyone working at the organization buys into the mission of the company. They all feel empowered and motivated. They feel like they own a stake in the company, and what happens to it matters to them. A healthy culture requires core values that the company, its management and its employees live by. Culture reflects and echoes throughout employees, products and services and the company’s relationship with its customers and the community.
Achieving a healthy culture takes a proactive effort. It takes initiatives that support team building and employee appreciation. After all, people want to know that their work is valued and that it matters. It’s not hard, it’s not expensive; it’s simply a matter of caring and valuing your people—and showing it.
Show employees that they are valued by promoting work-life balance, encouraging physical fitness with discounted gym memberships or offering programs to help with babysitting. Hosting happy hours at a place outside the office can encourage more personal bonds among employees and pays dividends when it comes to supporting culture. While some people have an old-school mentality about the boundaries between their personal and professional lives, today that distinction is blurry—and it should be. Employees who view the people they work with as their second family will be more engaged, productive and loyal at work.
So, who owns the culture? Well, the founder or CEO is responsible for setting it and putting the framework in place, but the employees are responsible for taking ownership of it, for perpetuating it and passing it on to new hires.
Three Signs of a Bad Culture
- No incentives. You can spot a bad company culture a mile away. It’s the one without the right incentives in place. The movie “Office Space” provides a classic example. The main character, Peter, explains to “the Bobs” (a pair of corporate “layoff specialists”) how he really has no motivation to work any harder or any more than the bare minimum because there are no rewards for doing so. He even mentions his eight bosses, who barely know who he is and tell him the same thing when something goes wrong.
- Nobody knows you. Bad cultures are impersonal. You are employee number 3,457. People don’t know your name, your interests, your family or your talents. Bad cultures are toxic to your business. They lead to high employee and customer turnover—the most expensive challenges a business can face. Bad cultures promote cutthroat internal competition—where everyone claws to get ahead and doesn’t support the rise of everyone. These are the people who wouldn’t do a favor for you or cover for you when you need it. They would steal a client from you or step on your toes. While companies might see short-term gains from a cut-throat atmosphere, you ultimately get a substandard product and a significant drop in client satisfaction. People are always stronger working together and building on collective strengths.
- Fear and negativity rule. Typically, bad cultures are run by management acting with negative reinforcement. There’s a boss who continually makes you feel like your job is on the line, like you’re never good enough. You feel that if you slip up, you’ll never hear the end of it. Compare this to a healthy culture, where individuals are allowed to grow from their mistakes and management supports staff in their path to being their best. Team leaders emphasize when staff members do well, making them feel like they’re making progress and helping them identify and build on their strengths.
Assessing Culture Fit
Hiring and firing decisions should be based on your core values. For example, one core value is teamwork. It’s all about the individuals on the team having no ego. This can be tricky. You’re looking for people who are confident but not overly boastful of their past successes. Subtle signs can reveal a person’s ability to work effectively in a team—which makes the question of culture a critical part of your screening and hiring process.
Sometimes people are good actors and slip through. In these cases, give them a chance. But remember: staying true to your culture means letting people go when they don’t uphold your values. The no-ego clause can be challenging, too, because the people with bigger egos are often your top performers. Even so, they aren’t worth the potential damage to your culture. Consider the many other people who work for you and how this one person may impact them.
Jeff Naeem is the owner of Junk-A-Haulics and the author of the book Stupid Enough to Succeed: The Millennial Entrepreneur’s Guide to Achieving Business Hypergrowth.