I met a CEO who was extremely proud of himself - he added bagels to his company's Friday morning routine. He thought the gesture of appreciation would boost employee morale and shift the culture.
But company culture isn't just what you do - it's who you are (Tweet This!). And whether you intend to, you start establishing your culture from day one. Unfortunately, many business owners are so focused on developing their product or service that culture evolves without intentional direction, eventually causing problems.
Low morale, unproductive employees, high turnover, and client attrition are signs that you might need a culture shift. While changing direction mid-stream presents challenges, a great culture is essential for competing with other companies that can duplicate your quality.
Here are five crucial steps for overcoming obstacles and developing the company culture you really want:
1. Be honest and humble.
If you try to change your culture mid-stream, people won't easily trust that your desire to change is genuine. The better you communicate why you're making changes, the quicker you'll build trust.
Transparency is huge here. If you've put finances or customers ahead of valuing your own people, admit it and apologize. Ask for ideas for change from all areas of the company, and don't be afraid to get outside help to determine your mission and values statements.
2. Train your leaders.
As they place a heavy focus on culture, managers often make the mistake of thinking they have to choose between working or spending time on culture. But I'll let you in on a secret: Spending time on culture is working. In fact, it's an essential part of a manager's job.
Teach leaders to weave culture into their daily activities. It's as simple as walking the floor, getting to know employees personally, giving recognition for good work, and talking about core values in meetings.
To achieve this level of interaction, creating a manual that explains how to lead according to values is helpful for teaching and accountability.
3. Don't rush things.
Cultural changes take time. Small businesses take about a year to cross over; for larger companies, it's more like three to five years (Tweet This!).
Develop and implement programs over time that focus on living out the values, rewards and recognition, and training and development.
4. Use appropriate resources.
Some campaigns - like the ones that socialize core values (posters, T-shirts, buttons) - cost money. Don't be afraid to spend that money if you have it. A healthy culture boosts morale, which increases productivity, which increases profits. It's a worthwhile investment in the long run.
But if you don't have the resources, you can still make a big cultural impact with minimal costs. There are plenty of inexpensive ways to have fun together, including potlucks, theme days, and volunteering. You can bypass expensive trainers and offer services like on-demand online learning programs to employees.
5. Measure and evaluate changes.
Track your culture developments so you know which strategies are working best for your unique organization. Some useful measurements to track are satisfaction and attrition rates for employees and customers, revenue and profitability, and key indicators for productivity. Find correlations by tracking measurements on the same frequency (quarterly or annually).
These steps will help make your transition successful, but you are the driving force behind real, lasting change. Don't rely on Friday morning bagels to improve your company. Those are a great start, but you need to demonstrate every value you want to see in your employees and your business. A healthy culture shift starts with you and ends with substantial growth.
Paul Spiegelman is the chief culture officer at Stericycle and founder and former CEO of BerylHealth. He also co-founded the Small Giants Community with Inc. editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. He is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence for Office Depot's SmallBizClub.com. You can read more at PaulSpiegelman.com.@paulspiegelman
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