This is the second post in a series about Frequently Asked Questions on the topic of Company Culture.
I will explain why it’s important, and provide some examples of companies with a good and bad culture.
Watch the recorded video here, or keep reading for bonus-filled content.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
2. Why is company culture important?
I was asked this question a while ago. What’s the point of thinking about culture?
I believe there are 7 reasons it matters.
This will speak to you if you are interested in creatively expressing yourself and showing that creativity to the work in the art of what you do.
Company culture is a manifestation of presenting that creativity to others. It’s a live environment. A collection of many personalities who can meld together to produce even more impact on the world.
True to your beliefs
Your culture can be a “melting pot” that combines all the people you hired, as well as your other stakeholders (people who want to help you succeed). You have the ability to encourage behavior that fits your core beliefs, and to discipline behavior that goes against those beliefs as long as it’s clearly outlined in the company policies and procedures.
Build a community
By having a company, you have created a mini-community of individuals who want to help reach your vision and mission. You have the opportunity to make the most of engaging people and adding more value to the world.
Attract the right people
A company culture is an environment that speaks to our needs, fears, and expectations.
Your culture should feel very comfortable to those who share your beliefs and philosophy.
And it should be fairly uncomfortable, or at least not very interesting, to those who do not share your beliefs.
So if you set it up correctly, you will attract employees, collaborators, and customers who want to join you on the journey and see the value of moving your company forward.
That experience will be something magnetic. The individuals who provide the most value to a business are called Ideal Customers.
Read more: What to Do When You Realize Your Customer Is Not a Good Fit
Develop strong bonds
A company culture where you feel confident and comfortable expressing yourself, and where your behavior matches your belief system, will help you connect with people in a deep way.
Enhance the workplace
It’s more fun to be in an environment where the rules are clearly spelled out and the expectations are obvious.
Produce better results
When you consider the power of rewarding and attracting behaviors that align with your beliefs, this can enhance the outcomes of what you’re trying to achieve.
3. Can you give some examples of good and bad culture?
I have been in quite a variety of work situations in my life, starting when I was 14 selling foldable chairs (it’s a long story), working as a secretary, a babysitter, and a few quirky jobs (several of which I mentioned in Why I Hate MLMs: My Story).
Some of my past employers provided a great experience, were very beneficial; they helped me to mature and develop professionally. I felt a lot of joy working in cultures that encouraged me to be myself.
Other work environments were quite harmful. Some were even, I would say, abusive.
- I was told to do tasks that are unethical and illegal
- I was treated disrespectfully
- I was sexually harassed
I think nearly every woman has, at one time or another, had similar experiences. Sadly, it’s not unusual to go through workplace experiences that result in a long-term impact.
The #MeToo shared experience in the past year has made it clear that we still have a long way to go in eliminating harassment, intimidation, and bullying in the workplace.
Read my story here: Why #MeToo Inspired Me to Be Transparent and Share My Failures
Examples of Good Company Culture
- Welcome Packet
One company provided me with a packet which included a personalized letter, a mug and t-shirt with the company logo, some other goodies, materials for me to review about the policies and department, and an invitation to an upcoming company event. I thought that was a really personal and special. It took some effort on their part but made a difference in my initial impression of the company.
- Appreciation Inventory
During the onboarding at one company, I was asked how I would like to be appreciated. They handed me a sheet with different checkboxes like “receive a small gift,” “go out to lunch,” “hear praise at a department meeting.” This was before the Languages of Appreciation was popular in the early 2000’s. It made a big impact on me. My answer was “receive a gift certificate to Barnes & Noble,” because my favorite thing to do is buy and read books; and the last thing I’d want to do is to be in front of my peers getting an award, or having to sit with my boss for a 2-hour lunch.
By asking for my opinion, it rewarded my individuality and allowed me to express myself during the initial phase of joining the company.
- Lunch Introduction
Some organizations feature new employee and formally introduce them to the rest of the organization. This allows the person to feel more comfortable; everyone can introduce themselves in a more casual environment, which puts less pressure on the new employee.
- Stand-Up Introduction
One of my employers had a morning “stand-up” routine every day at 8:30. We would arrive at work at 8, check e-mail and start some tasks, then meet the rest of the team in a central place, literally standing in a circle. One by one, each manager would take turns discussing updates, needs, and upcoming issues to be resolved. New employees were also announced and greeted by the whole group.
- Frequent Feedback
New employees have a valuable perspective of how the company is organized, and where problems might be coming from. They can see things that are easy to overlook if you’ve been there for years. It’s nice to be asked for feedback—without any fear of retaliation, which is an important component of a healthy feedback loop. The ability to talk about problems without any concern for being punished is really important.
Examples of Bad Company Culture
- Separating Managers and Staff
When there’s a big division between these two groups, it’s a problem. I have been in staff roles and not being allowed to talk to upper managers, and was also in upper management roles and discouraged from engaging with my staff. I speak about that in a few posts about the Employee For a Day experience. I started doing this at one company because there was so little interaction between those of us at the top of the organization and the staff.
The upper-level leaders went out to eat almost every day, and staff remained behind to eat in the lunchroom. There was no communication happening about problems that were arising. Since the company didn’t have a weekly staff meeting, I initiated that and also regularly sat with the employees for lunch so we could connect more.
For several days, I literally sat in the seat of my staff and learned their role, did their job, and tried to understand the “pain points” of what they were going through. It taught me so, so much. It’s one thing to assume what the problems are. It’s another to actually solve the problems yourself; gives you a whole different perspective.
I recommend that all leaders try being an Employee For a Day. If you are a solo practitioner, you could try changing your daily schedule to try different roles. Being uncomfortable can help you see things that you wouldn’t otherwise see.
- No Follow-Through on Promises
One time, my executive team did a SWOT analysis together, and we were so excited about the results. We had all thought of some great Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. The CEO had written down our answers on a big poster board.
After our meeting, our CEO sent the list out by e-mail. Days went by, and nothing came of it. There was no next step or result from this exciting discovery of what our organization could do to improve. I thought this was a missed opportunity (which could have been included in the Opportunities section—“not applying the results of strategic tools”).
It was disappointing to see this happen, because there was such potential for what the organization could have done better; and instead, they let the opportunity pass.
- Extreme Competition
When you create a competitive setting without giving people a chance to collaborate and connect, this can lead to divisive and counter-productive results. Perhaps your own personality and temperament makes you very competitive; if that’s something that drives you, perhaps you’re creating a culture where that is rewarded. But if it goes too far, an extremely competitive and forceful culture can be destructive.
4. Where do I start with figuring out what my company’s culture is?
The person who asked me this has a small practice with a couple of employees. My suggestion would be:
1. Define your belief system and your philosophy.
Before you try to analyze how your culture works, and what kind of setting you want to create (fun and exciting, serious and determined, welcoming and gentle, etc.), it’s really important to define what YOU believe and how YOU—the owner—sees the world.
As the owner, you are the one who steers the ship. You are making the ultimate decisions about what happens in your company. Even if you’re not conscious of it.
So what do you believe? How do you see the world? What are your expectations?
Also consider whether your management style is more Yin (passive, receptive, unstructured) or Yang (forceful, decisive, structured). Find out how in Yin and Yang Approaches to Management.
2. Determine the parameters
Consider: What are your standards?
Do you set clear boundaries around how things should and should not happen?
What kind of quality do you want?
How do you measure growth?
3. Focus on expectations.
Once you are clear on your beliefs, you can focus on which behaviors are and aren’t acceptable in your culture.
Tune in for part 3.
Read more about this topic:
Understanding the Culture of a Company, Part 1: Surface Culture
Understanding the Culture of a Company, Part 2: Deeper Culture
Interested in hearing how you can reverse a toxic workplace? Find out more here.
Grace LaConte is a business consultant, writer, workplace equity strategist, and the founder of LaConte Consulting. Her risk management tools are used around the globe, and she has successfully reversed toxic work environments for clients in the healthcare and non-profit fields. Grace specializes in lactation law compliance & policy development, reducing staff turnover after maternity leave, and creating a participatory work culture.
Find more at laconteconsulting.com, or connect with her on Instagram and Twitter @lacontestrategy.