Design Your Company Culture

Marcianne Kuethen
August 17, 2015

A Tale of Two Cultures

At ABC Company, everything has its place, and order generally reigns. Employees are given a tight window of time in which to clock in each morning without penalty–no more than three minutes early and no more than seven minutes late. A kitchen calendar tells each employee when it is his or her turn to do KP. Meetings are regularly scheduled, and performance reviews are regularly delivered. Workers are required to dress for success, and the offices are decorated in keeping with the image of excellence touted on the company tagline. Christmas parties are a dressy affair, with speeches about past performance and future growth.

Expectations are high, deadlines are pressing, and overtime is frequently necessary. While there is a lot of laughter, creativity, and camaraderie, the exacting standards are a bit stressful. But the type of people employed there generally thrive because the hiring manager is sharp–she hires mostly perfectionists and high achievers who naturally buy into the highly structured culture originated by an exacting CEO.

In contrast, at XYZ Company, the office hours are loose. As long as employees get their work done, no one monitors their presence. Coffee cups in the break room sink indicate the lack of any enforced cleanup schedule, yet somehow, the dishwasher still gets run every few days. Meetings flex as daily schedules change, and performance reviews are discussed as something the management will get around to eventually…and eventually, they usually do.

Employees dress up for the Christmas party, which is sprinkled with homespun games, recognition speeches, teasing, and laughter.  Casual attire for those working in the office is allowed, and the offices are comfortably decorated to encourage creativity and energy. But with many team members working remotely, the halls are sometimes quiet. When a deal is closed, a string of congratulatory emails makes the rounds, and for someone’s birthday, the team might walk across the way for ice cream. The culture is more a collection of individuals who enjoy working together but who can’t be boxed in, which is an accurate reflection of the perspective of its CEO.

Is one company’s culture better than another, or one style of management wrong or right? No, it’s not about being better or right, it’s about what’s most effective for your organization.  Individual company culture is based on many factors such as leadership style, values, the kind of work and product produced, size of staff, location, and more. Your company’s culture is just as unique as these two real organizations described above. What makes it one-of-a-kind is your leadership and the choices you’ve made thus far. The question is, does the culture you’ve created enable your employees to succeed at their work and be engaged in it? And are you hiring employees who are a great fit for your culture? In reality, if ABC’s employees were to switch for a day with XYZ’s, everyone would be frustrated, because both companies have done a good job of hiring for their unique culture.

Perhaps there is something you’d like to change about your culture, something that doesn’t reflect your perspective or that is hindering your employees from doing their best. Maybe your culture resembles the looser structure of XYZ Company, but you’d really like to have a more tightly run ship. It could be that you’re considering the benefits of offering remote work and are concerned about how this will affect your existing internal structure. Or possibly you’ve never even sat down and established exactly what you want your company culture to look like.

In 6 Steps for Creating a Strong Company Culture, Jeremy Bloom, CEO and author of Fueled by Failure, advises, “It’s a good idea to start by sitting down with your board of directors or co-founders to write down what your core values are and how you want to weave them into the DNA of your team. It’s important that the founders uphold the culture from the very beginning. To do so, the culture has to be more than just a shared vision. If you have a vision without a strategy, it will never be more than a vision.”

He advocates that a strong business culture incorporate six factors:

  1. Transparency with employees so they can ask questions and  give feedback
  2. Empowerment and a sense of freedom so employees can take on tasks, manage them, find solutions, and execute them
  3. Time to disconnect for a balance between work and real life
  4. Physical space to accommodate both extroverts and introverts, whatever arrangement helps employees be most productive
  5. Input from customers and employees to understand what works and what doesn’t
  6. Organizational design, “the processes, structure, and hierarchy you put into place that clarify authority, responsibility, and accountability to allow everyone to do his or her job effectively.”

What is your strategy to design your company culture, or do you have one? If not, grab a white board and your leadership team, and use these 6 tips as a springboard for the creation of a culture that is uniquely yours.

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