Behind every great company is a great culture, and yet even great companies die or become stagnant when they fail to focus on theirs. That might mean their culture is now out of date, or it might mean they simply outgrew it and it needs to be fixed. Every business culture is different, and the culture that gets a company to $5 million will not work to get them to $10 million. Likewise, the culture of a company at $100 million will not work for a startup. You have to determine what is right for your company and is most meaningful to your employees. Ultimately, as the CEO, you set the tone.
The Top Two Killers of Culture
1. Being Someone You Aren’t As a Company.
The biggest killer of culture is when a company tries to emulate the culture of a larger brand they admire. Many companies do this in the hopes they’ll scale because they’re mimicking a culture they think is great. A large number of companies have come to our firm for funding over the years who included “culture” as a big part of their pitch. Their definition of culture is usually something along the lines of free haircuts for their employees, free martini lunches, in-house massage therapists, nap rooms, large game rooms. Whatever. These perks are implemented because some larger brands include them in their employee benefits, and smaller companies think they can attract better talent and scale faster if they copy the “big boys.” But those perks are usually too expensive for smaller companies, and rarely, if ever, positively impact their culture.
2. Rogue Employees.
One amazingly fast culture killer is when one team member goes rogue but is still allowed to remain on the team. When someone on your team is no longer happy, and they begin acting out or doing poorly at their job, you must remember that your other team members are watching everything. When they see someone being allowed to give 70%, 50% or even 30% at their job, while the rest of the team is giving 100%, employees become upset that their leader is allowing a non-team player to remain on the team. That begins to infect team productivity, revenue, employee happiness—everything in your company. If left alone for long enough, which might just be a matter of a week or two, the whole team will begin to perform poorly. The fact that they were allowed to perform poorly, without the rest of your team knowing the leader was addressing it, causes damage and broken trust between the leader and the team. Holding consistent performance reviews and knowing when to reallocate talent (either out of the company or to a different role that can bring them more happiness and productivity) is crucial for a strong culture.
Those are two of the fastest culture killers, but on a positive note, here are three tips for building a powerful culture that makes people love what they do and that drives overall growth. And I don’t mean perks like “32 flavors of coffee in the breakroom” or “foot massage Mondays.” The hype around those perks never lasts and those aren’t impactful benefits. I’m talking about real, from-the-heart ways you can show your appreciation to your team.
1. Regular team meetings to review priorities: Culture is strengthened most by consistent team meetings — annually, quarterly, monthly, weekly, or daily. Our meetings give us the opportunity to attack obstacles as a team and celebrate wins as a team. During these meetings, we review each team member’s top five priorities for the week and any obstacles in their path that we, as a team, can remove. Everyone leaves the meeting knowing the exact actions they can take that day to have the greatest positive impact on the company’s growth. This clarity helps employees feel like a team, working together to achieve a unified target.
2. Staff rewards: Rewards or benefits that are aimed at the family—like baskets of gourmet organic foods sent to their home, covering the cost of childcare or even writing a detailed letter about their value to the company—show you care about employees at a deeper level. It also shows you acknowledge what is most important to them. One thing we did to let a team member know how important they were was delivering a barbecue to their home because we knew that their family loved to host neighborhood barbecues. It’s important to know your team and their family, and to pick rewards that truly show them how much they mean to you.
3. Flexibility: Remote work improves productivity and provides your employees with a better work-life balance. When employees aren’t stressed and distracted by having to choose between being a parent and a professional, they’re able to increase their productivity and improve the quality of their work. It’s also more cost-effective in the long run for the business than losing a team member and spending time and resources hiring and training a replacement.
When building your culture, get very clear on the company values and on the actions every person needs to own for the company to reach its goals. Then simply ensure everyone feels heard, respected and unified as they take those daily actions that drive the company forward. That’s how to build a winning culture.