What does “company culture” mean?
The word “culture” is often used in organizations today, but sometimes the individuals that speak about it don’t truly understand what it means. I was speaking with a CEO of an ILEC (Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier) in Illinois and asked him specifically about the culture of the environment he managed. His answer was, “We are all about working hard and making money.” I dug a little deeper and discovered this response was not really connected with any mechanism, values, repeatable behavior, or behavioral similarities. There was no guiding light that was leading them to success.
As a leader at one of the best high-speed internet providers in the Copperas Cove area, I understand the value of great company culture. Culture is important. It is key to a company creating a successful model with happy employees that consistently deliver results. But what is it? I wanted a definition that I could hold on to and say: This is it! This is culture! I looked back at textbooks, studied some of my current readings, questioned thought leaders, and then I questioned myself. Here is what I came up with:
Culture is a system of shared values and beliefs that govern how people engage with each other to achieve results.
What affects company culture?
Once I had defined it, I wanted to identify the influences that can either foster or hinder culture. There are many factors that influence company culture, but here are a few that I feel stand out:
The company’s history plays a huge role. The precedence you have set in your behavior, your leadership style, and the individuals that you have working for you all contribute to your culture. Without examining the past, we are missing a vital portion of the truth. Leaders who have a sophisticated grasp on the past have a unique advantage in controlling the future.
The company’s vision must be clearly defined. To do that, the company must describe its core values. These are the guiding principles that dictate behavior. It is the how and why that things get done, not just the fact that they get done.
The most dynamic influencer is leadership. A leader can make or break their company’s culture through their actions, behaviors, words, and influences. Leadership must live and breathe the culture, values, and vision. A dishonest or unethical leader can destroy the culture and the company.
The people you hire also play a key role. They have to “get” the culture, agree with the culture, and commit to fostering the culture. They have to wear it like a standard. You should only hire individuals that uphold the standard.
Too often, company culture is an afterthought when developing large-scale strategy. This tends to harm your culture! Upholding and reaffirming the culture you wish to create must be the first thought when making strategic plans and decisions.
Accountability is a cultural trait that leads to results. People who remain accountable to each other, their culture, their company, and themselves are generally very successful individuals. These are the people you want to nurture and grow in your organization.
How to foster great company culture
Culture is volatile when left unattended; it can be broken and even become harmful without proper care. Culture must be cultivated, nurtured and cared for. Cultural change can often take time, so you must be patient and diligent in guiding it.
To keep your culture strong, positive leadership and team members alike must own the mechanism. It must be based on core values that each individual believes in and consistently upholds. It has to be coached and redirected at times. When this occurs, you begin to see similar behaviors happening naturally. Your culture can become a guide that drives you toward results, but it takes putting in the work.
In summary, learn from your history and repeat what works. Ensure every area of leadership champions the culture and exhibits behavior that supports the culture. Establish a common vision with core values that support the behavior that you want to drive. Hire, fire, coach, correct, and reward based on those values. Celebrate successes as a product of culture. Give your team these tools, allow them to resolve the company’s issues, and encourage them to be accountable to each other. From top to bottom, accountability is key — culture is everyone’s responsibility.
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