I’ve worked for companies big and small. I’ve started businesses, sold businesses, and I’ve become an entrepreneur. And among the many incredibly important things I’ve learned through all of my experiences, there’s one common thread that stands out when I think about what works. There’s no doubt in my mind that culture — however prominent, however pronounced — is one of the most powerful tools business owners and self-employed people anywhere have at their disposal. The importance of culture and budgeting for it has been written about ad nauseum. But it’s not just about money or a pool table and snacks, , it’s about creating a culture that is real and people feel comfortable being themselves and maintaining a culture that can stand the test of time.
However your business is set up, and however you decide to invest to make that culture grow, there are a few faux pas to watch out for when you’re envisioning or revisiting this topic. Of course it’s important to have strong core values that you and your team can really get behind to establish a strong company culture. If you’ve noticed that you can’t easily define your culture or if you asked each team member how they define it for your workplace and its not consistent, it might be time to think about how to create a vision that can play out in the here-and-now.
It’s just...too much
When people talk about the culture of your company, they should never have reason to whisper the words “just drink the Kool Aid.” It’s great to have tradition. In fact, traditions are a fun way to bring people together. But overly ceremonial cultures can make employees — and onlookers — pretty uncomfortable. Celebrating a team member can be as simple as sending an email saying good job, or picking up the phone and telling them how happy you are with the work they did. We all have experiences where this has made us feel just as appreciated, if not more, than a scheduled ceremonial event.
It begs for promises
Your mission and values are not the law of the land, but rather goals and ideas to work by. Your business should not “hire and fire” by culture, but rather use culture to influence how the people in your organization approach their work every day. If a culture is functioning in a healthy way, the team will ensure that everyone has aligned themselves without you having to get involved. If their environment isn’t as comfortable or someone isn’t behaving properly, -- this will surface. The team will either have the discussion themselves or surface it for you or a manager to handle so as not to change a positive work environment.
You can’t hold to it
If you’re setting up a culture based on values that you don’t honestly live by, it likely won’t last. If you feel hypocritical when you think about what you’re asking from your employees or business outcomes, there could be a major problem. Ask yourself, “is this authentic?” and “is this a company culture I’d like to work within each day?” The best way to go about defining your values is to not create them in a silo, but collaborate. Brainstorm the values with the people that work with you, for you and also ask your customers. Being transparent and collaborative sets the tone for the future culture and shows all the people that affect your business that their opinion matters.
It’s not inclusive
After you’ve thought about whether you could withstand the culture in your company or small business, think about whether it’s inviting and relatable to people who aren’t exactly like you. A culture that is inclusive will be more likely to succeed in the long run, because it will attract new ideas, perspectives, and experiences to your vision. This isn’t something you can leave to chance, you have to focus on this. When I had my accounting practice, I had many customers that didn’t speak english as their first language. I made the decision to hire some team members that spoke their language fluently. This required me to trust and delegate. Since I couldn’t understand all of the conversations that were happening, I had to create a culture where there is a reliable process for my team to follow and empower them to execute the way they needed to for that customer’s success. Letting go isn’t easy, but it is the only way to allow your team to grow in their roles and feel happier with what they do.
Building a strong company culture that lasts isn’t as easy as you may think. If you’re looking to invest in, or build upon your company culture in the coming months, it’s just as important to think about what not to do and how not to act. It’s not about being negative, but rather being aware of the aspects of culture that could actually detract from your work or place it in a less-than-flattering light. It is an intentional effort and needs to be worked on, not taken for granted. Once it’s defined, that is just the beginning. Ensuring that the culture is protected and has room to grow and get better takes time and care to create a better workplace.
Are you breaking any of these culture faux pas? Tell me about how you’re building a strong culture in your field.
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