During a recent interview I was asked, “Is it important to establish your culture when you first start your company?” It is an interesting question because some might argue that it is difficult to have a culture on day one – especially when you consider that culture is about having a set of collective beliefs and values. On day one, it might be a “collective” of one – you.
Yet, despite that, my answer to the question was an emphatic yes – it’s critical to establish your culture right out of the gate. When you start your business, you not only want to have a clear idea of the product or service you will offer and the value proposition it provides, but it is equally important to also have a clear sense of the work environment you want to create so you can attract, recruit, and retain people to deliver on this idea.
Make it Part of the Plan and Everyday Work
Just as you write down your plan for achieving your business goals, write down what you want your shared values to be and the type of work environment you want to create. And make sure you communicate this on a regular basis – in every interview you conduct, on your website, and with your team.
The workplace environment starts from the top down so make sure that top management lives, eats, and breathes your culture – and leads by example. Walk around and speak to other members of the team, and hear what they have to say. This will not only make you assessible, but it also allows you to find out if there are any cracks in the workplace culture or how it is being communicated so you can continually make adjustments.
Our Corporate Culture
When we started Leap the Pond, we wanted to create the type of corporate culture that not only reflected how we wanted to work, but that would also inspire other team members. We wanted it to be an environment where employees would really enjoy what they are doing day in and day out.
We set out from the beginning to create a working environment that is:
We believe that supporting one another in the achievement of goals – as well as addressing challenges – is essential for a strong, well-functioning team. While many organizations tout the importance of establishing this type of collegial environment, not all of them walk the walk and talk the talk. We have tried to accomplish this by creating an environment where team members work closely together, learn from one another, and communicate their support of each other. The way I see it is that company culture is more than having a fridge filled with free beer or a company ping pong table, but rather it’s about creating a strong family that can weather every success and failure together.
We all want and need recognition – it is in our human nature. Meeting expectations around compensation provides the reinforcement that you’ve done a good job, but recognition doesn’t always have to take the form of monetary compensation. There are so many ways to compensate the team on a job well done, and it could be as simple as bringing in breakfast or offering summer hours.
We’ve all left a company at some point in our careers that might have checked two out of the three boxes of what we were looking for, but something was missing. For me, that often was an enriching environment. In our firm, we consider employee fulfillment a key area of focus, and we offer training opportunities to help employees grow and become exposed to new ideas and skills. In addition, we’ve made a commitment to giving back and supporting our community, which gives the entire team a greater sense of purpose. This past year, for example, we’ve contributed to two charities: a scholarship at our local community college and a nonprofit that provides support to young children.
At the End of the Day Happy Employees Matter
At the end of the day we believe that if we can create a work environment that has these attributes, our employees, and in turn, our customers, will be happy. We have many employees that have been with us from the start and as we’ve grown over the past 10 years, we’ve attracted more great talent – all who go the extra mile to help our customers. We like to think that all of this has something to do with the culture we have created.
And if you want to look at it from a strictly dollars and cents point of view, a company’s culture can influence productivity, which in turn, can increase profitability and value. Fortune Magazine reported on a study – conducted by the Social Market Foundation and the University of Warwick’s Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy – showing that when employees were happy, their productivity was 12 percent greater on average than a control group, and in some cases, as much as 20 percent higher.
No matter if you’re looking at the intangible qualities that create loyal customers and employees or the metrics of improving your financials, corporate culture shouldn’t be overlooked.