In the beginning, most entrepreneurs are so consumed with getting all the tangible aspects of their product and service just right for their introduction that dealing with an intangible like creating a company culture just isn’t anywhere on their radar screen.
At the outset of most new business ventures, the principle actors are usually a small nucleus of collaborating individuals who fill multiple roles and wear many different hats. The company culture, out of shear necessity, becomes a product of their individual drive, ambition and personality. But as the organization grows, and decisions become less centralized, creating a set of core values and ideals that represent a strong and clear culture can give everyone within the company the proper framework from which to work. It is important to instill values and ideals earlier on, so as the business grows, these ingrained standards remain consistent with the goals and objectives of the organization’s strategy. Merck CEO, Richard Clark, says of corporate culture: “The fact is, culture eats strategy for lunch, you can have a good strategy in place, but if you don’t have the culture and the enabling systems that allow you to successfully implement that strategy, the culture of the organization will defeat the strategy.”
The makeup, size or shape of an organization’s culture doesn’t come prepackaged, off the self and in one size that fits all. Creating an environment that promotes shared values and ideals takes leadership. An organization’s culture is determined mostly by how its leaders act, so formulating a leadership team that embodies the beliefs and attributes that are representative of the company, its mission and its brand’s reputation is essential to developing a company culture. Team members should embody the company’s values and be empowered and enthusiastic about spreading the mission. Look for employees that have a good balance of technical capabilities and leadership skills, those that can build great relationships with customers as well as brainstorm and innovate with colleagues.
Once established, institutionalize the culture to make certain that it is scalable and flexible enough to grow with the organization as it gets larger. Make it part of the company’s structure to walk the walk and talk the talk from every level. Prioritize and focus – be sure every leader and every team member has the vision and understands and shares in the mission’s success. While it is important to establish and keep popular traditions, don’t fall victim to unique and quirky trappings like at-work video game centers, juice bars, cappuccino machines and an open “bring your pet to work rule.” What matters most to people is personal fulfillment, rewards, professional development and being a contributing member to a winning endeavor. Reward employees who advance the culture, and be open and honest with those who don’t. Creative and dedicated people will rise to the challenge of meeting reasonably high expectations of performance.
Nothing ever perpetuates itself, completely and unaided, to a successful conclusion. Communicating the values and culture explicitly and continuously, both internally and externally, will result in employees who understand the culture, and why it’s important to make it an integral part of what the company does.
Done well, the culture will represent the values, mindsets, and behaviors that constitute an environment conducive to success; to better able a company to execute on strategy and to have employees that maintain a focus on customers and competitors alike.