Recently at a conference, I was chatting with a small-business owner on how he had started his company and how it was performing. He was doing everything right: His team structure was good, his technology and operations were streamlined, and his revenue and profit were healthy. However, he wasn’t happy. He was extremely frustrated that his employees – despite doing their jobs well – were not understanding, owning and practicing the mission and values of the business. They simply were not in tune with the company culture. He is not alone.
A good company culture is one of the hardest things to implement – to get people to believe in, and to change behaviors that align with it. But once you have it and you can maintain it, you cannot put a price on culture. As David Bell, chairman of gyro, once said: “A ‘B’ company with an ‘A’ culture will trump an ‘A’ company with a ‘B’ culture any day.”
These wise words were echoed in gyro and the FORTUNE Knowledge Group’s new survey, “Beyond the Brand: Why Business Decision-Makers Buy into Strong Cultures.” Based on both Bell’s speech and this new groundbreaking report, here are five tips to help improve company culture:
1) Reinforce your culture, continually.
Repetition is the key to learning, and it applies to instilling culture. Never stop telling your employees what it is that the company stands for and how the associated behaviors should permeate every aspect of business between colleagues, with vendors and with clients. Even if you think they already know it, keep repeating it.
2) Never compromise your beliefs.
There will always be temptation to make cultural exceptions here and there for the benefit of the business. Once you start, however, it is very difficult to stem the leak. You have then set a contradictory precedent likely to be referenced every time you try to reinforce values and behavior. For this reason, establishing guidelines and authenticity around your business culture is essential.
3) Hire like-minded people.
The people in your business are your biggest asset for instilling and maintaining culture. You can have the most intelligent person imaginable, but if he or she undermines any of the hard work you have accomplished, it is just not worth it. A good cultural fit is infectious and attractive. Look for talent that can help you build upon your business mission, vision and values. You won’t be sorry.
4) Select brand stewards.
Select a few key employees (regardless of title and rank) who are well respected and who embody the spirit of your company to help infuse the values that you wish to highlight. As a smaller business, you have the benefit of more direct communication channels and fewer bureaucratic layers than a corporate one. Your brand stewards’ contribution to culture will be invaluable and also provide a higher sense of purpose than merely their day-to-day responsibilities.
5) Customers love strong cultures.
Now more than ever, clients are looking for business partners with a strong culture. In fact, according to the new gyro/FORTUNE Knowledge Group survey, decision-makers said culture trumped a reputation for innovation or market dominance.
I shared all of these points with this small-business owner. At the end of the conversation, he acknowledged that the soft aspects of running a business are just as important as the hard aspects. He had just forgotten to give them the priority they deserved.
While he has the benefit of building and shaping his company from the start, these lessons are just as valuable for large companies looking to dial up their culture. After all, like his small business, you have an idea and a dream. It’s all about re-connecting with that essence and building anew. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.
Carolyn Perret- Account Director, gyro New York
Carolyn first found her passion for marketing and advertising in her homeland, South Africa, where she worked with divisions of Unilever SA, Beiersdorf SA and Spar International as the account contact on a number of their respective marketing initiatives. She then moved to London, United Kingdom where she spent a considerable period of her career with direct agency Wunderman, working on accounts spanning the automotive, consumer electronics & technology, CPG, and finance industry sectors. There, Carolyn honed her digital and direct marketing skills which opened up opportunities to work client side at Nokia on their UK and Global Marketing teams. She moved to New York City in 2013 and has been with gyro just over two years, bringing her experience across markets and continents to create outstanding work for her US clients.