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The seven pillars of building a successful company culture

You can’t force a company culture into being just by talking about it. A solid company culture needs to be built over time from solid foundations.

31st Jul 2018
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Building an organisational culture is like making a house of cards. It’s both simple and complex.

If you have all the elements in place and you reinforce them, nurturing culture is easy. If you don’t, the house collapses into its many parts. So business leaders, ask yourselves: how sturdy is your company’s cultural foundation?

I use this metaphor because I have identified seven pillars that underlie great workplace culture. In researching businesses around the globe, I found that when each pillar stands intact, it supports the rest.

Together, they form a sound basis for a dynamic, company-serving culture.

The seven pillars are:

  • Transparency: the degree of open communication and information sharing
  • Positivity: the attitude toward problem solving
  • Measurement: how business performance is assessed
  • Acknowledgement: the protocol for recognising good work by staff
  • Uniqueness: the singular qualities of team members and of company operations, products and services
  • Listening: how well team members hear and respond to each other’s and clients’ needs
  • Mistakes: the company’s approach to missed goals and failure

In a moment, we’ll look at how well your organisation handles these seven cultural aspects and how to find your weak spots. First, let’s talk about why cultural upkeep is a must for businesses that want to preserve their ‘property values’.

Renew your commitment

Good company culture is a draw that keeps valuable people commuting to the office or their nearest internet connection, but this comfy vibe is more like a coat of paint than a business foundation.

Yes, we want our employees to be happy and engaged in their work. The real goal of any business, though, is to perform well and to grow or retain market share.

The paint job is an important finishing touch, but a sturdy foundation must precede it. This is why company culture evolves from the mission, values, and vision on which the business was founded.

Team members are the bricks in your cultural edifice, but a uniform look won’t increase the strength of the foundation. In a business context, you want more diversity, not less. 

When your operations reflect and reinforce your values, then your people can perpetuate them in the decisions they make and the effort they expend to do their jobs well.

The arrangement is reciprocal. Employees feed culture, culture feeds employees, and your business benefits.

A solid organisation in which staff are empowered to make informed choices and to use their individual gifts simply runs better than companies of lesser construction.

Any savvy homeowner makes improvements and repairs to preserve a structure’s value, and so too should any business leader. Superior quality stands the test of time and outperforms the competition.

This is why we see an emphasis on nurturing workplace culture these days. Every enterprise wants an edge. As markets and demographics change, having a strong culture that continually adapts keeps businesses on top. If you need a reason to work on your company culture, that’s it.

Plan an attack

Suppose you are readying your home for sale and you want to get the most bang for your buck, you’d tackle the most glaring needs first. So, ask yourself which cultural areas represent your company’s biggest weaknesses. Then address these first.

All seven pillars have goals that further culture and business performance. As you fortify each pillar, put policies in place to maintain it.

Monitor, discuss, act, or revisit these cultural elements weekly, monthly, or whatever it takes to preserve their integrity. Answer the following questions to help you identify cultural priorities.

Transparency involves exchanging information between staff members and, often, with clients and the general public. Greater understanding leads to greater engagement and performance.

1.    Does everyone in your organisation know what everyone else does and why?

2.    Is each staff member allowed or encouraged to approach anyone who might help with questions or concerns, regardless of status?

3.    Does every employee know the economic impact of their job performance on the company’s financial standing? Positivity affects how your business reacts to challenges and setbacks.

4.    When addressing problems, do you focus on the things that went according to plan, or only on what went wrong?

5.    Do you identify what an ideal solution would look like, or just try to fix obvious shortcomings?

6.    Does your team discuss potential problems before they happen, or do they rely on existing policies to meet unforeseen needs?

Measurement provides an objective means of defining success in individual job performance, goal achievement, and marketplace ranking.

7.    Do you solicit input from employees via survey or in-person meetings?

8.    Do you share the results of this data collection with those involved?

9.    Do you base new policies on this information?

Acknowledgment offers positive reinforcement for adherence to company policy and achievement of goals. Publicly recognising staff effort defines success and encourages people to emulate outstanding behavior.

10.    Does your company reward good work with something that employees really want? (Hint: $10 gift cards don’t count!)

11.    Do you acknowledge publicly (in front of peers or in an open online forum) or in private meetings?

12.    Do all employees have equal opportunity to earn recognition?

Uniqueness enhances team cohesiveness and brand identity.

13.    Can every employee recite the company’s unique mission, vision, and values?

14.    Can they list the unique selling points of your company’s products or services?

15.    Does everyone have a common understanding of company terminology?

Listening must team up with transparency to ensure optimal understanding of relevant business issues.

16.    Do you set meeting boundaries to limit distractions that interfere with listening, such as turning cell phones off or providing snacks in lengthy sessions?

17.    Do you interrupt a speaker, so you won’t forget your response?

18.    Do you call people out for not listening?

Mistakes can be treated as disasters or opportunities for improvement. Punishment can inhibit motivation; embracing mistakes often leads to innovative breakthroughs.

19.    Does your company distinguish between honest or unforeseeable mistakes and careless errors?

20.    Do you punish people for not meeting goals despite a good effort?

21.    Do you publicly acknowledge your own mistakes?

Focus on diversity

Team members are the bricks in your cultural edifice, but a uniform look won’t increase the strength of the foundation. In a business context, you want more diversity, not less. In your ongoing hiring practices, seek out people with diverse experiences and approaches. Celebrating diversity of thought increases your options in every way.

Suppose your company must find a way to fill a void created by a lost client or change in consumer demand. Wouldn’t you rather have more points of view than a single limited one to which everyone must acquiesce? Putting together a diverse team lets your draw on a larger body of knowledge and intuition.

Distinct minority groups, gender perspectives, and physical abilities correlate to different ways of handling everyday tasks and envisioning future possibilities.

On the surface, this may look like simply hiring more people outside the mainstream demographic. It is actually a result of preferring different types of thinkers.

As you wrestle with the fine points of culture, return to this concept when you get stuck. Appreciate the diversity within your organisation. Being open to new people and ideas is a bedrock principle of the strongest companies.

Interested in learning more about this topic? Read How to take control of your company culture.

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