Does company culture matter? After all, if you’re a small business of three, four, five people, your personalities will just churn out a sort of organizational culture, right? Well, first, are you sure you want your business to represent those personalities? And, particularly, if you never have a conversation about your company culture, you have no idea where people stand and why it might matter.
We are going to give you some exercises to help you build a company culture that sends the right message to you, your colleagues and future colleagues, and your current and future clients.
But first, let’s clarify...
What is company culture?
Also referred to as organizational culture corporate culture is how people act within your small business and why. It’s what makes up you and your teammates’ core values and principles. Company culture is a system of shared meaning. It doesn’t even have to be your actual culture, but how employees perceive your culture.
Why is organizational culture important?
Company culture is really the backbone of every major action you take or move your organization makes. It influences the behavior of your colleagues, it influences the message you are leaving the public with. It increases team collaboration and employee engagement, decreases turnover, and overall builds a sense of unity and participation. If it’s the right organizational culture, it’ll even influence employee behavior. Plus, it creates a sense of company identity that’s infectious.
Plus, while you are still finding your sea legs as you set your small business sail, you may not want to (nor have the time to) over-dictate with company-wide formalization. Defining your organizational culture can help steer everyone in the right direction without so many bylaws and mission statements.
Why might you not want company culture?
First and foremost if your whole business objective is to sell your company soon. Someone will be less likely to make that purchase if they know your company cultures don’t jive. Similarly, if you are looking for a new C-level member to join, like a CEO, CTO or CFO, it may limit who you can attract or who will be willing to join you. Also, if you establish too limiting of a company culture, you limit who you can get to join your team, potentially limiting diversity of thought and innovation.
However, while it does have these limitations, unless you fall into these buckets, there are far too many benefits not to consider discovering and nurturing your small business company culture. Now the question becomes, how can you do just that?
How can I build company culture?
It’s best to start with the ultimate three-letter question: Why? Why do people choose to work together? What is the purpose, cause or belief do you hold to do what you do? Simon Sinek, author of Start with the Why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action has made a living off helping individuals and organizations discover the answer to these ultimate questions. He argues that all organizations know What they do, many know How they do it, but few know Why they do it, although the What, How and Why are inherently linked. And Sinek says that “putting customers first” is never an acceptable answer.
So now that you know the right question, how can you answer it? Management 3.0 guru Jurgen Appelo says you should start to answer that Why with storytelling. In his most recent leadership guide, #Workout: Games, Tools & Practices to Engage People, Improve Work, and Delight Clients, he offers some of the questions to ask to lead you there
- What happened in the past that made you do what you do now?
- What are the anecdotes - both good and bad - that you use to explain what you do?
- How can you visualize those stories? Images, videos, artifacts, drawings?
- Can these stories turn into metaphors?
When you can’t find the right words, Appelo recommends creating a Work Expo. By putting up a visual exposition of emails, cartoons, photos, anything really, that can not only be seen by your team but by other teams and your clients, you are exposing your company culture to the world. From here, the words and purpose of your company will arise.
Make sure that you aren’t just asking your employees. More often than not, for better or for worse, organizational culture comes from the top down. But you cannot inflict this culture onto your employees. Every activity toward defining your company culture needs to include every team member, from intern to CEO.
What do I do with organizational culture?
Now that you’ve more or less defined what your small business organizational culture is, you have the ability to enhance and influence behavior. It’s best done by example. If team collaboration rose as an important value in your company, you better be doing workshops and joining more brainstorming meetings. Likewise, if autonomy is a strong value, help your team self-organize, determining what is delegated to whom.
Don’t coerce people into following the culture but reward those that do. When a teammate does something that is a good example of your company culture or values, publicly acknowledge them, celebrate these accomplishments, and add that example to your Work Expo. And don’t forget to put visual reminders up around your office or place of business so your customers and employees alike can’t forget your small business’s purpose.