The memory is almost 30 years old now, but it still resonates to my core.
The setting for this vivid recollection is a Target store. One of my elementary school teachers just happens to be there too.
It was one of those moments where you see your teacher outside of school and you just freeze. My mother told me to go over and say hello. But I was shy and refused.
My mother grabbed my shoulders, looked me in the eye and delivered some advice that's never left me: "Matt, relationships matter. People matter. You need to go say hello to your teacher."
That's now ingrained in my business at Thrive Internet Marketing Agency. "Relationships matter" is one of our core values.
What are your core values? Here are some tips for building your business culture.
1. Put your values first.
Establishing your company's core values – how it thinks, behaves and makes critical decisions – should be one of the first steps for any business. Setting strong core values will build loyalty both internally and externally, further promoting your brand.
Once established, core values should be visible at every turn for a company. They shouldn't only be a page on your website but also a fixture on your walls. From sales and marketing to internal reviews, make your core values part of your business formula. Make sure your employees are well aware of your core values, and then make sure they're living up to them.
2. Stay positive and respectful.
Coming up with core values for your business shouldn't be challenging. Just think about your own values and how you want to be treated.
Thrive's culture and values were shaped by my parents and my wife. I grew up in a positive atmosphere around parents who rarely argued or raised their voices. When starting my business, I knew it would be vital to establish positivity.
As the business owner, however, you must set the tone. Creating strong core values for a company is essential, but it can't just be lip service either. As the business owner, you have to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
Be present, greet others with a smile and a hello, and find a specific example of someone's work you can compliment. Encouraging others should be a priority for any business owner.
One of my strengths is as an idea generator. Give me a dry-erase board and I'll fill it up with new ideas. But what if I didn't listen to the ideas of others? What if I didn't value others' opinions?
Well, that'd make me a hypocrite and cause me to lose respect with my peers.
3. Practice integrity at every turn.
Another core principle is integrity. We believe in honesty and sincerity toward others when doing business. We don't sell you a service you won't need. We won't lie to get your business. It's all about treating people with kindness and respect.
Your customers are smart. If you sell them something they don't need, they'll know soon enough, and your churn rate will suffer. They won't be back.
Be smart too, and build trust. After all, how could I stress the importance of online reputation management to companies if our reputation wasn't on point?
If your company's core values aren't providing a proper foundation and structure for your business, maybe it's time to look in the mirror. Are you practicing what you preach?
4. Maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Now back to my mother, who also helped shape another one of our values in our culture of proper work-life balance.
When I was a young boy, I started calling my mother "Mommy Airplane" because she often flew to other cities to meet with clients for her software business, which my uncle was also a part of. She quickly realized she didn't like the tag of Mommy Airplane. She told my uncle something had to change. She could no longer travel as much.
My parents were part of the American culture of bringing work home. They worked long hours. That was my path as well. When starting my business, I worked all the time. I rarely slept, wanting to get the job done to keep the clients happy.
But that didn't work well for my wife. You see, she grew up in an entirely different culture in Germany. Germans know how to unplug. Go to my wife's hometown in Germany on a Sunday and almost every business is closed.
My wife and I had this ongoing discussion when I started my business in 2005 about how much I was working. Well, let's call it more of a negotiation. She did not support me being a workaholic. One time, she told me she'd rather us be poor and happy than have a successful business that ultimately results in a lost relationship. In short, she said the money wasn't as important as our marriage.
That caught my attention and helped shape our policy of not taking work home with us. Our employees will tell you it's rare for one of them to receive a call, or even an email, after work hours.
Just the other day, one of our employees was stretching himself too thin and working after hours. I called him on a Friday and said, "Man, I appreciate your effort, but I don't want you living here at the office when your wife kicks you out of your house." I told him it was more important to be home with his family.
Recently, during one of our monthly meetings, I stressed that "healthy people make up a healthy company." I urged everyone to make sure they're making human connections outside of work and getting enough sleep.
5. Don't view workers as your employees; call them friends.
A big part of what drives me every morning is that I really care about our team.
It's funny – my young kids know that Thrive is my business. But they don't really understand the concept that I'm the boss. In my home, everyone at the office is referred to as my "work friends." I don't call them my employees at home with my kids. My son will say, "Daddy, what was that guy's name who was one of your work friends?"
But that's how I view it. I see everyone I work with as friends and not employees. That helps me align our core values and build the right culture.
Many Americans grow up in homes where work is a dreaded part of their life. Ultimately, I want my kids to see work as a positive experience. I want to enjoy my workweek and my weekend. Why not have both?