Business leaders look at the key characteristics helping to build business success
Ray Bharara* Company culture goes far beyond buzzwords and free snacks. It is the entire atmosphere of the office, how people treat one another, and an orientation towards productivity and positivity.
Creating a strong company culture is way easier said than done, and most companies make half-baked attempts at this cause to little effect. To prioritize positive culture and employee satisfaction, it takes strategy and execution like any other business initiative.
Here is what today’s business leaders have to say about improving culture while keeping employees happy and productive.
Attitude is Everything
Any company culture will suffer without positivity flowing from the top down and bottom up. Executives must set an example for others to follow, as should team leaders and supervisors on the front lines.
“In order to create a positive company culture, company leaders need to promote positivity themselves,” said Matt Seaburn, President and Partner at Rent-a-Wheel.
“Embody warmth, cheerfulness and drive in how you carry yourself and in how you communicate with your employees. Show your employees that you’re truly excited and grateful for their efforts. Express optimism about the future of the company. Remember that positivity can be infectious. Keep spreading it around and then it will become more of the norm throughout the company culture.”
Even when times are tough, a positive mindset can move mountains.
If employees aren’t enjoying the work experience, they’re more likely to burn out and seek greener pastures. Productivity should be the primary focus, but balance is also key.
“Keep work fun,” said Kiran Gollakota, Co-Founder of Waltham Clinic. “Hold work parties or Happy Hours where people can get together and socialize in a lighter atmosphere. People are able to come together and get to know each other outside of work. This will help with collaboration overall.”
It’s not complicated – happy employees work together and work hard.
Structure = Culture
Every executive talks a big game about company culture, but few actually put money down to make structural changes within the business that lead to better outcomes for employee satisfaction. That’s changing as execs realize the benefits of great company culture.
“A healthy and enjoyable company culture is achieved through thorough social and professional structuring,” said Benjamin Smith, Founder of Disco.
“To optimize employee satisfaction and culture development, you should recruit a Head of People and Culture. People and culture is typically conflated with human resources but, the Head of People and Culture focuses on fostering intrapersonal relationships that are vital for foundation building and bonding within the team. This C-suite position would serve as the go to source for establishing the spirit of mission statement amongst the workplace as well as cementing connections between the business leaders and team members.”
The blueprint for optimized company culture doesn’t yet exist, so follow your own roadmap.
Not convinced that company culture matters on a macro level? Now that more businesses are putting in the effort, they’re seeing results and spreading the good word.
“I used to believe that culture was ‘soft,’ and had little bearing on our bottom line,” said Vern Dosch, Former President and CEO of NISC. “What I believe today is that our culture has everything to do with our bottom line, now and into the future.”
Be sure to track key metrics and evaluate your progress on your journey to improve culture.
Set the Tone
From where does company culture originate? It doesn’t just appear out of thin air. In many cases, it comes from a series of deliberate decisions that sends the culture in a certain direction, while avoiding common pitfalls.
“Creating a positive company culture boils down to leadership and that includes the CEO of the company,” said Aidan Cole, Co-Founder of HIDE.
“I suggest creating 5-7 core values that the company operates by. This way you have a system that governs everyone else’s actions. These values could include things like integrity, customer comes first, have respect for everyone, etc. As simple as this sounds it establishes a tone amongst employees and helps others fall in line and learn the company culture.”
If nobody is setting the tone for positive culture at your company, it may be time for you to step up.
Recognize Team Members
Company culture, however imperfect, can’t exist without employees showing up each day and putting in the work. If they aren’t recognized for their contributions, they may not feel incentivized to stick around.
“Encouraging team members and words of encouragement help keep a positive atmosphere in the office,” said Jason Wong, CEO of Doe Lashes. “People work better when they know that they are a valued member of the team. Let them know that they are doing well and how they are an asset.”
This is a low-cost activity with massive ROI – don’t skip it.
Complex problems in the workplace often can’t be solved with a top-down approach. Seek input and advice from across the company to improve culture, boost engagement, and navigate tricky situations.
“Culture is a critical portion of the success of the workplace and the overall success of your business,” said Roy Ferman, CEO and Founder of Seek Capital. (right)
“It’s likely your team is made up of a diverse set of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives so implementing the collaborative problem solving (CPS) system allows everyone to contribute towards a solution which can be very formative for business leaders and team building. Managers should let everyone’s perspectives build upon the other. This setup is aimed at decreasing conflict and tension, enhances the ability to relate with one another, and improves the overall communication of the team which is imperative for keeping employees’ satisfaction at the forefront.”
As employees become more involved in everyday tasks with team members, a great company culture will come about naturally.
Like so many elements of business success, company culture often comes down to holding yourself – and others – to a higher standard of conduct and performance.
“Determine what behaviors and beliefs you value as a company, and have everyone live true to them,” said Brittany Forsyth, VP of Human Relations at Shopify. “These behaviors and beliefs should be so essential to your core, that you don’t even think of it as culture.”
When standards of excellence are set from the outset, a strong company culture will follow naturally.
Tools of the Trade
It’s not reasonable to expect a thriving company culture without key technologies distributed throughout the workplace. Today’s employees need the right tools to get the job done, and that means stepping up your tech.
“My team and I have found that communication using remote tools is still very practical to get things done on deadline,” said Harris Rabin, Co-Founder of R3SET.
“Nowadays people expect you to use your cell phone as your office line, which I believe can be avoidable if company practices are set up to use the video and audio call features on the communication channels. With a remote working environment, it’s my goal to support company operations separate from personal contact use as best as possible, as if we were operating from our offices.”
Alternatively, don’t go overboard on unnecessary tech – choose wisely and implement effectively.
Not sure what it takes to build a great company culture? Start by imaging your perfect work environment, then take real steps to bring your vision to life. It all begins with values.
“At Topicals we really value empathy, transparency, and having a bias to action because it allows for more open communication and productive workflows,” said Olamide Olowe, CEO of Topicals. “We value self-starters, critical thinkers and people who know how to work collaboratively and independently. Our culture is laid back, fun, and positive. We encourage a four-day work week and we want to minimize stress in daily work life by equipping our teams with technology that helps automate time-consuming tasks.”
Culture will never be perfect, but you can get closer than you might think.
Hard Work Rewarded
Here’s a simple way to encourage hard work from your employees while keeping them happy: show appreciation and authentic gratitude for their efforts.
“Have daily stand-ups where one team member is highlighted for their work,” said Guy Bar, Founder of Hygear. “Keep a rotation so it is a different person so everyone gets a chance to be shown off. This helps people to stay motivated and have a positive attitude.”
It’s hard to feel dissatisfied when you’ve got plenty of thank-you’s and compliments from coworkers and managers.
It Starts at the Top
We often imagine executives as highly calculated characters who don’t really contribute to culture. Quite the opposite is true, however – they set the precedent from the top, and it better be good.
“Creating a positive company culture that makes employees feel comfortable but at the same time demands results is key,” said Aidan Cole, Co-Founder of TatBrow.
“This starts with upper management (C-levels) and continues all the way down to lower level management. You want your employees to have a foundational system they follow, a path to promotion and the ability to openly express if something is wrong. If you have an office environment, make it warm and welcoming. Have inspirational quotes on the wall and let employees create their own space. The last thing you want is employees to feel trapped and stuffed up in an old fashion office environment.
If company culture is lagging in any area, it might be coming from the top.
Even the most private and stoic employees appreciate a pat on the back or a thank-you message now and then. Don’t underestimate this simple tactic to brighten moods and bring out the best in people.
“Words of encouragement can go a long way,” said Bari Medgaus, COO of Stabili-Teeth. “Start writing thank you notes to your team members and let them know what they are doing well in. A small thank you can go a long way for teams.”
This practice barely takes a minute of your time, but the outcomes are tremendous.
Beyond a paycheck, what do you really offer employees to keep them engaged and happy on a material level? Free chips and a fruit bowl isn’t going to cut it.
“Companies who value employee satisfaction in the workplace don’t just provide office perks but annual gatherings and volunteer days,” said Chris Vaughn, CEO of Emjay. “You can find out about these things by going to the company website and checking out its event highlights. Some volunteer time can even be a part of the employee benefits package which you can ask about when it’s sent to you during the interview process.”
There are plenty of programs you can implement to get employees more involved, so be creative and think bigger.
It’s time to remove the word “overcommunication” from your vocab – there’s no such thing! Keep the communication flowing at all times, and many culture problems will be uprooted instantly.
“Companies that have a horizontal culture of communication have the most longevity,” said Nik Sharma, CEO of Sharma Brands. (left) “Employees should be able to provide constructive feedback to their higher-ups in order to maintain a healthy balance of leadership and solution generating. Even the person in the highest office in the company can grow from feedback from the people working below them. Positive feedback is necessary for a healthy work culture. Allowing for an open flow of communication will keep the work culture grounded in community, collaboration, and growth.”
It will take time, effort, and possibly some cash to create an ideal company culture, but with these tips in mind, you can accomplish this mission faster and with better results.
Culture is always a work in progress, remember, so keep the effort up and look for ways to improve every day.
Ray Bharara is a freelance business and economic writer focused on writing about company structures, culture and growth strategies.