Great corporate cultures don't happen by accident - they're deliberate, authentic and crucial to a company’s long-term success. A good way to gauge the strength of your company's corporate culture is to ask a junior employee why they think the company exists, where it's going, and what makes it uniquely special. If you suspect you'll get a blank stare in return, it's time to focus on building a stronger corporate culture.
As you think about developing this at your own company, its important to realize that all corporate cultures aren't the same: A social network might value openness, meritocracy, and relentless innovation, while a larger consumer brand might value its heritage, product quality, and customer-centric focus.
That said, there are a number of common themes running through all strong corporate cultures: Good people, open lines of communication, a shared sense of community, opportunities for advancement, and the sense that the company exists for a larger purpose than profits.
Here are five tips to get you started:
Steve Jobs once said, “I’ve built a lot of my success off finding truly gifted people and not settling for B and C players, but really going for the A players…I found that when you get enough A players together, when you go through the incredible work to find five of these A players, they really like working with each other.” It’s imperative that you hire talented people who share a common vision for the company, as they will soon be responsible for carrying the company's corporate culture to future employees, customers, partners and the public.
Hiring can be an immensely time-consuming process, involving a lot of legwork, interviews and careful consideration. Hiring too quickly, especially to fill a short-term need, can easily result in a bad hire. As someone who has done quite a bit of hiring, I can attest that it's always more productive to spend the time to ensure a good hire than to have to go through the process to exit a bad hire.
As a best practice, I always think it is a good idea to bring in stakeholders from different departments to help you interview candidates. These employees offer an unbiased opinion and are crucial for hiring the best and the brightest – you always want to hire people who are smarter than you are. The best part about hiring A players is that it becomes self-policing - they only want to hire more A players!
Demonstrating the company's corporate culture begins during the hiring process and continues through onboarding. New employees should know why the company exists, what makes it competitive, where it's going and how it plans to get there.
A great culture requires communication
It's important for executives to reinforce their company's culture in conversations they have with their employees. This is true for large corporations, all the way down to micro-sized startups. For small companies, that might be in the form of daily scrums, while larger companies might instead use a weekly newsletter and regularly-scheduled town hall meetings. It's important to choose the communication methods that will be most effective for your company's size.
Creating space for open dialogue is important, and gives executives the chance to frame major decisions around the company's core values. Employees want to know that they're up to date on what's happening at the company, and that they have a voice in its direction.
One of the common foundations of a good culture is that constructive criticism is not only allowed, but encouraged. Creating channels for truly anonymous feedback can bring tremendous value to a company. Give employees the space to make suggestions on how the company could run better, and listen to their feedback. Corporate culture is not set in stone – be open to adjustments.
Help employees make personal connections
Good executives help their employees build a sense of community by fostering opportunities for one-on-one connections. This requires thinking outside of the occasional happy hour or company dinner, to non-traditional team building activities designed to get people talking – and not just about work. Opportunities for different parts of the organization to interact in a non-work environment is where true relationships are built. These personal connections are incredibly valuable and a key ingredient in building a flourishing corporate culture.
These days technology is at a point now where people can work remotely without seeing their team members, but there really is no substitute for in-person interaction. We are all capable of doing our technical jobs remotely, but the strongest bonds are built when you have a personal conversation before a meeting, or walk down the hall to greet someone. You should be flexible with your policy regarding remote work, but don’t underestimate the importance of interacting in-person with each other.
Reward emerging leaders
Employees like to know they work for a company where the best people are rewarded, in the tangible form of raises, bonuses, and promotions. Creating paths of opportunity for employees, and publicly expressing appreciation for people who make outsized efforts will go far in creating an outstanding corporate culture.
If you consistently observe an employee who is a team player that drives value throughout the organization, show the rest of the organization how that behavior is promoted. It’s an executive’s job to clear the path to make their employees successful. New employees learn the company's culture from existing employees. You should do your best to always convey the message that hard work and ingenuity are valued.
Do well by doing good
Devoting some portion of your company's time and resources to giving back to the community is a great way to emphasize the corporate values your company stands for while giving employees another opportunity to make personal connections with one another.
Corporate culture is far more than a mission statement. It's a living idea held by each employee, informing their purpose at the company. A strong culture helps bring in better candidates, gives them a path for career growth and a community to voice their concerns. The result becomes teams that are motivated to tackle the impossible and stick around when things get tough.