There is so much discussion in business circles about building a strong workplace culture. There are hashtags devoted to #workplaceculture, my Google search on workplace culture provided more than 4.5 BILLION results and I found countless companies that tout workplace culture consulting as a service.
It’s a hot topic, especially when there is a tight labor market and competition for the best talent is fierce.
Since many of us spend more time with coworkers than our own families, we want an environment that is welcoming, challenging and a place where we feel valued and heard. It’s not enough anymore to just get a paycheck because many job seekers are looking for more than just money.
Like many business owners, I’ve spent significant time learning about building a strong culture and talking to my team about what really matters to them. Even though we are a relatively young company and have a small team (for now), we understand that defining our culture is an important process that is setting us up for future growth.
So much has been written about how to build a culture and what you need to have a culture that employees want. But I’m not going to write about that. Nor am I going to discuss ping pong tables, Friday afternoon cocktail carts or dry-cleaning services.
What I am going to share, however, is how our taking steps toward having a defined culture has transformed the way we do business and made a significant impact on our bottom line.
We developed core values as a team, we talk about them often and display them publicly.
In 2018, we had some business challenges that really stretched our team. Instead of dwelling on what wasn’t going right, we faced the challenges and talked about what mattered to us as a company. We worked together to develop our 10 core values, which are prominently displayed in our offices, on our website and are included in all our proposals. We are very proud of them and refer to them often.
We let our core values guide us and we are making better decisions.
Our core values guide everything we do. When we hire new employees, our interview process includes questions tied to our core values. It helps us know right away if someone will be a fit and it works. When we evaluate current employees, we use core values as a measure of performance. We know we can improve staff performance on people who fit our values. We can’t fix a bad fit or a bad attitude. That comes out in our evaluations.
We evaluate potential clients and prospects based on potential fit. If they align with who we are as a company, we will work with that client or pursue that prospect. If they don’t, we decline the opportunity to bid on the project or remove a prospect from our list.
We align ourselves with vendors who have the same commitment to service and quality that we deliver to our clients. We have many long-standing relationships with vendors who we trust and can go to in a variety of situations. What is not surprising is that many of these vendors have been in business for a very long time and have very little staff turnover (Learn more about the importance of good vendors in our blog "You know you have a good vendor when...").
We address issues regularly to avoid larger problems later.
Every company has issues (Food is rotting in the fridge. The WiFi is bad. We’re feeling overwhelmed.). These seemingly small issues become major problems when they are allowed to fester. Once we started to address issues in our weekly staff meeting, we found that issues were handled quickly and people felt like they were being heard. If the issue is small, we handle it during the meeting. If it is a larger issue that takes more time, we assign team members to research the issue and recommend a solution so that we can get a resolution quickly.
We started treating ourselves like we treat our clients and we accomplish more.
As a marketing and fundraising consulting firm, we spend our days developing strategy and implementing creative projects for our clients. But we failed to give ourselves the same attention. In 2019, we started spending time focusing on our own success. We did a better job of setting financial targets and operational goals, we enhanced our marketing efforts and began regular discussions about OUR business. It paid off significantly in many ways. Our revenue was up 28% and our net income was up more than 400%. We have great plans for the future. And our team is working together to accomplish some ambitious goals.
Culture is an interesting thing and I don’t think that there is a magic formula for developing the “right” culture. Yes, there are some amazing tools that can help guide your business - we’re fans of the framework that is outlined in Gino Wickman’s “Traction.” But ultimately you need to do what is right for your business and your people. And speaking of people, you MUST involve your people in the process. Defining your culture can’t be done in the C-Suite only.
As we grow, we will continue to further define our culture. Will we eventually get a ping pong table? Probably not – the noise is kind of distracting to writers. But will we let our core values guide what we do as we get bigger? Absolutely.
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