Culture is a crucial aspect of any successful business, especially in the Built World. It may be difficult to measure, but its effects are very real. A strong company culture will help you attract and retain top talent, improve customer satisfaction and speed up your growth.
Even though it’s built from the ground up, culture isn’t something that just happens. It takes smart leadership and the right policies to create the kind of environment where a good culture can take hold and thrive.
That’s why I want to share some strategies for building the right kind of culture in your company – whether you’re a small startup or a large operation.
Employees who feel like they’re part of a team and are valued by the company will be motivated to do their best work. A positive work environment can also lead to increased collaboration and creativity, since everyone is comfortable sharing new ideas and providing constructive feedback.
This one’s obvious but important. Employees who are happy at work and feel like they’re part of a supportive community are less likely to look for new opportunities elsewhere.
A strong company culture also makes employees feel invested in the company’s success. This not only encourages them to work harder to help with that success but also creates a sense of loyalty to the company.
Highly talented employees have their pick of employers – and they’ll go for the ones whose values align with their own. Having a strong company culture makes you more attractive to the kind of employees you really want – highly skilled, dedicated and forward thinking.
Employees who feel proud to be working for their company and believe in its mission are more likely to provide excellent customer service. They have a better attitude, don’t mind taking the extra step to make sure the customer’s needs are met and are great ambassadors for your brand.
All the benefits I’ve mentioned so far will make your employees more efficient and productive. That will translate into more sales, returning customers and higher profits.
There isn’t one single type of good company culture. There are a few different ways of creating a workplace environment that helps your business grow.
There are, however, a few types of culture you want to avoid. They’re the ones that leave the customer wishing they could buy from someone else, keep your company stuck in the past or give your employees all the wrong priorities.
These are the most common types of workplace culture and how they can help you grow – or hold you back.
The telltale sign of a fat and happy culture is an overall lack of ambition. The employees aren’t necessarily slacking off, but they also don’t have much drive or motivation. They’re content with their current level of success, which isn’t bad for morale but will slow the growth of the business to a crawl.
A fat and happy culture is all about maintaining the status quo. It encourages employees to avoid challenges and risks – even if that means passing up on big rewards.
Although it is highly risk averse, this type of culture is a risk in itself. It doesn’t encourage innovation, which makes it difficult for the business to adapt to changing market conditions. Salespeople will also focus on their current customers instead of working to convert new ones, resulting in lost opportunities and lower profits.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ve got the fearful culture. These are the workplaces where every news story about inflation or recessions throws leadership into a panic. They have worst-case-scenario thinking and will pull back their efforts at the first sign of trouble.
Employees in a fearful culture will let external factors decide how much business they will get instead of actively pursuing opportunities. New projects might get shut down as soon as things get bumpy, so the employees learn not to bother. Because of that, it’s extremely difficult for fearful companies to grow.
Built World companies who are the biggest in their market are at risk of developing this type of culture. When being the biggest is your defining characteristic, it tends to make the employees cocky. Sales reps start assuming people will buy from them because they have no choice. They tend to think the customer needs them more than they need the customer.
Even if that’s true right now, it won’t last. Customers will eventually find a company that does a better job of meeting their needs and being the biggest won’t matter much then.
That’s inevitable, because these companies tend to ignore changes in customer demand. They also tend to invest less in customer service because they think the customer will keep coming back no matter what.
A great customer service culture is essential for any business that wants to stay ahead of the competition. Companies that put their customers first can use that to grow their business – if they know how.
The key is to create a positive relationship with the customers that goes beyond the basics. Good customer service leaves customers feeling satisfied, but a personalized experience, timely response and an above-and-beyond attitude makes a strong impression.
This kind of culture helps build trust with customers, which encourages them to keep coming back. It’s a great asset for converting customers who are frustrated with their current product or supplier and it’s a powerful tool for building loyalty and keeping repeat customers satisfied.
Big thinking companies pride themselves on being innovative and pushing boundaries. Their employees are highly ambitious. They think beyond their product and look for ways they can change the industry as a whole.
These companies are highly adaptable, tend to stay ahead of trends and often meet changes in customer demand before the competition is even aware of those changes. They’re not interested in doing business the way it’s always been done and are always looking to emerging technologies like artificial intelligence or data analytics for new ways to grow their sales.
Employees in this type of culture see each other as competition, not just rival companies. They try to one-up each other, no matter the costs.
A cutthroat culture creates a highly stressful, high-pressure environment that is highly effective at achieving short-term goals, but often at the cost of long-term success. There is little trust or collaboration, teamwork breaks down quickly, customer relationships tend to suffer and employees are more likely to use shady tactics to meet their personal targets.
This culture takes hold in some companies that have a tight-knit group of employees who have been working together for a long time. They tend to resist change and new ideas, preferring things to stay the way they’ve been since they joined the company. New employees have a very difficult time breaking into this group, which impedes collaboration and teamwork.
This type of culture can lead to a lack of diversity and creativity, making it hard for the business to adapt to any kind of change.
In a bureaucratic culture, everything is imposed from the top down. There are rigid processes for getting anything done and strict hierarchies. Employees at these companies have very little autonomy and decision-making power.
Bureaucratic companies are slow at making decisions because everything has to go through the right chain of command. Every request has to go through a layer of red tape. Even small projects can take months to get approval.
Because they move so slowly, these companies tend to frustrate customers who need simple problems solved. They tend to miss opportunities, innovate less and struggle to adapt to market conditions. When they decide to try something new, a more agile company always beats them to the punch.
The first step to improving your company’s culture is to take stock of where it is now. When you read through that list, which type of culture felt most familiar to you? Did the “customer comes first” culture sound like your workplace, or was it the cutthroat one? Are you more bureaucratic or big thinking?
Once you have an answer to that question, ask yourself whether your culture is working for you or against you. If you have a fearful culture, chances are it’s holding you back. If you have a cocky “big man on campus” culture, it might be going well now but it means you’ll probably get in your own way eventually.
If your culture is standing in the way of your growth, you’ll need to take steps to repair it. Encourage collaboration to break up the cliques, reward salespeople for customer retention to discourage the winner-takes-all mentality, cut some of the red tape to empower employees to get things done more quickly.
If you already have a culture that’s pushing your company forward, don’t leave it on autopilot. Encourage its best features. If you’re already a company where the customer comes first, try to find ways to make your customer service even more stellar. If you already prioritize innovation, look for initiatives that will help your employees be as creative as they can be.
You can’t impose a good company culture from the top down, but you can do things to help develop and sustain the kind of culture you want. It takes some work, a bit of creativity and strong leadership – but so does anything else that will help you be more successful.