Building a strong company culture
Many qualities are desirable, perhaps even essential, to run a successful business. To name a few, you’ll rarely find a thriving company without clear leadership, a positive public image or a unique selling point. Even a powerful logo can be a huge advantage over rivals – just ask Nike. A good business also needs a strong and distinctive internal company culture, guiding every employee’s decisions and actions. All the objectives I have just mentioned are hard to achieve but the benefits are definitely worth pursuing.
How then can a business build a strong company culture? Just as importantly, how can that culture be maintained and developed as the business grows, adding employees or even acquiring companies?
Here are my six top tips:
1. Be consistent in your vision. Neither the public nor your staff will be able to show loyalty to your brand if the values of that brand keep changing. Yes, you must be flexible when necessary, and willing to admit to mistakes in how you are running the business, but you can’t possibly establish a long-term company culture if you keep changing your mind about how to move forward.
2. Hold regular meetings for everyone in the business (which can be attended in person or perhaps by videoconference, as appropriate). Your staff guidelines must be communicated to every member of your team. Across the Luxaviation Group, for example, one of our cultural initiatives is for local teams to meet briefly for ‘Daily Line-Ups’ at 10:00. As part of these meetings, we ensure everybody knows their contribution matters and understands how their role impacts on the overall success of the business. We share information between the locations that make up the group and collectively learn from the experiences of all employees. We involve everybody when forming working strategies or planning a cultural approach, ensuring staff ‘buy-in’. You won’t win many contracts if you don’t win the ‘hearts and minds’ of your own team. Committed employees are priceless, whereas indifferent staff can rapidly become expensive liabilities.
3. Ensure your employees don’t just strive to make customers happy but show the same respect and commitment to please when engaging with colleagues. We all know the customer service representative who smiles at clients and snarls at fellow workers.
4. Encourage ‘360-degree feedback’, whereby all employees are reviewed (anonymously where appropriate) not just by their managers but also by their colleagues of equivalent rank/peers and the people they manage (sometimes called ‘supervisory’, ‘lateral’ and ‘subordinate’ feedback respectively). This process really helps to ensure a company’s culture is being applied by all staff.
5. Respect the fact change is difficult. Whether integrating a new employee or a whole newly acquired business, explain the rationale behind your company’s culture. Don’t just impose rules. As before, you won’t win the hearts and minds of employees if they don’t see any logic behind the guidelines they are being asked to follow and enforce.
6. When integrating multiple businesses, implement a structured and realistic plan to harmonise cultures. Respect differences, acknowledging there will not (at least initially) be 100% agreement on every point. Senior management teams need to understand change can be unpopular and plan accordingly.
Ultimately, a strong internal culture must translate into an impressive experience for your clients – who are, after all, your best brand ambassadors. There’s no point (or longevity) having happy employees and miserable customers. We’ve all been to restaurants where the staff seem to be having more fun than the diners. But if your clients realise, as you and your employees know, that your business is special, they will ‘spread the word’ of your excellence for you. Everybody wins.
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