One of my large-animal veterinary clients was going through some staff changes and enhancements that required a full review of their "company culture." The process allowed us to define, implement and reinforce this core element of the business philosophy.
The term "company culture” refers to the shared values, attitudes, standards and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature. It is rooted in the organization’s vision, goals, strategies and structure.
Though we should develop a written document outlining our culture, the actual culture is revealed in the day-to-day interactions between coworkers, leaders and others associated with the company. Your community is also well aware of your company’s true culture.
However, developing your desired culture provides clarity for your employees and helps secure the culture you want. Without this clarity, the employees will establish their own culture without your input and favoring their personal preferences, morals and ethics.
There are many warning signs that a company’s culture needs to be redefined and fully established. Here are some common ones:
- Lack of accountability
- Disregard for customers
- Lack of sincere care for animals
- High accident and injury rates
- Ongoing and unresolved conflict
- “Us versus them” mentality between staff and management
- High turnover throughout the company
- Inability to hire qualified candidates
- Minimal social interaction among employees
- Disinterest in personal improvement
Further, if we recognize that our company culture has some undesirable elements, it could be a reflection of our own personal values as owners, or from having disengaged managers, or our failure to communicate the specific values we want to establish.
To develop and reinforce our culture, we must first identify and remove some common barriers that hamper our success. These barriers might include emotional immaturity, bigotry or bias, poor support from superiors, inconsistency, a lack of a clear and communicated vision, poor accountability, and inequity. Beware! We cannot establish our desired culture until the negative drivers of the inappropriate atmosphere are eliminated.
Action steps to take
As you work to remove known barriers you can also begin to define your desired culture. First, define the core values that you and your employees feel are the most appropriate for your business. Have engaging, one-on-one conversations with your employees to glean their thoughts on what they would like to see in the culture. Ask what they feel are some of the most positive attributes of your culture. Glean their personal list of core values that should be included in your culture to ensure their sense of buy-in on the results. Compile those values and begin the process of communicating them consistently throughout the organization.
Your list of core values could include traits such as honesty, integrity, family, environmental stewardship, excellence, hard work, community, passion, balanced living, and ethical behaviors.
Companies that have not had a defined, written company culture in the past should begin by developing a complete list of values. Most companies will have 10 or 12 on their list. Once those are communicated to the staff, begin implementation by focusing on three or four of the values at a time rather than trying to establish all of them at once. Prioritize those that need immediate focus and explain them clearly, talk about them in a variety of conversations and use examples of how they should be expressed using different common scenarios.
Once those seem to be taking root in the organization, move on to other core values.
Remember, your culture is as obvious as the way every person in the company answers the phone, and as embedded as the comments made behind closed doors in board meetings. Your culture is already known throughout the local area. Be sure it reflects the characteristics you desire.
Six more strategies can help develop your company culture
- Reinforce the positive expressions of your values in action during your regular staff meetings and conversations with employees.
- Identify and immediately correct behaviors that are counter to your desired culture—on the spot. Use them as training opportunities. Develop and coach rather than discipline in these situations.
- Bring in local speakers from respected organizations to talk about their culture and the positive aspects of their efforts. Provide other speakers that can teach key areas such as safety, personal health and well-being, healthy relationships, or personal finances.
- Provide rewards and recognition for positive changes among staff. People tend to reduce their extra efforts if they don’t feel anyone noticed. Consider things like company picnics and family outings, or give away company products or gifts from vendors for those teams and individuals who help move the culture in the right direction.
- Discuss and reinforce your core values during the hiring process, in interviews, in your advertisements for job openings, on your website, in the footer of your e-mail, during disciplinary actions and in other communications that allow opportunities to share these values.
- Look for occasions to discuss your core values with neighbors, vendors, customers and local businesses so that it is clear you are serious about them.
For a complete handout on this topic and a worksheet for developing your culture, e-mail Don at firstname.lastname@example.org.