Your Company Culture: Your Success or Demise?

Your company culture is the one thing that can determine whether or not your company succeeds or fails.
The right culture will help you scale up by attracting talented people who will drive incredible results and innovation.

The wrong culture will make your business crash and burn.

Despite the importance of a successful business culture, many emerging companies still don’t understand what a good company culture is, or how to create one, and are left scratching their heads when persistent issues continue to surface.

The first step to avoiding the pitfall of poor company culture is understanding what a company culture actually is. Many companies take the buzzword approach to creating their company culture, and use a collection of terms like, “Integrity, Communication, Respect, Excellence” as their statement of culture. For reference as to how well this works, “Integrity, Communication, Respect, Excellence” was the company culture statement of Enron.

The reason the buzzword approach fails is because a company culture isn’t just a list of the keywords you think are most important. You’re company culture is how your company treats its team members and customers, solves problems on a daily basis, and who your company hires and retains.

In short, the way your company operates day-to-day is your company culture.

So how do you ensure that you’re creating a successful company culture?

First, keep reading.

A company culture is all about action.

Part of the reason the four-word company culture doesn’t work is that it’s not specific enough. Things like “integrity” and “communication” are ambiguous enough that they could mean something different to each team member.

When deciding what you want your company culture to be based on, think of actionable items. What do you want to DO everyday that will create a successful culture that great people will want to be a part of, and that you want to participate in?

Do you want to allow people to determine their own hours each day, or work on a task completion basis to offer flexibility? Do you want your employees to innovate new ideas and present them to the upper management, a bottom-up production approach?

Start with the action you want to see in your company. Identify as many actions as possible. Be really specific as to how you want your daily operations to look and feel, but resist the urge to micromanage. Focus on things that all or most of your team members can do.

Once you’ve determined those actions, look your list over, and identify the common themes. What concepts do all or most of your ideal activities point toward?

Now, distill this big list of ideal actions down into conceptual statements that you can use to communicate the primary concepts behind these actions. If one of your ideal actions is allowing flexible working based on task completion, a core concept for you might be “quality of work over quantity of work.”

The purpose of this process is to get your company culture laid out in a way that’s easy for your team members to understand, but dynamic enough that they can apply it to their own working situation.

At this point, you’ve essentially created a company culture handbook. This is a list of the core concepts of your company, based on what you want your company to do everyday.

Once you have a good company culture established, you’ll need to maintain it. There are two key aspects to maintaining a successful company culture:


The first item, evolution, means that you will need to continually evaluate and update your company culture to fit the ever-changing conditions of the business world.

The second thing, pruning, is exactly what it sounds like. You will need to ruthlessly (respectfully and within the guidelines of labor laws) remove people who don’t support or fit with your company culture.
Nobody thrives in every environment, and you want to weed out as quickly as possible people who won’t thrive in your company environment.

Pruning your company also means eliminating actions by good team members that don’t align with your core concepts. Even well defined concepts are subject to misunderstanding or misjudgment.

Correcting mistakes, and clarifying the application of your core concepts is critical to maintaining a good company culture. Remember, your company culture is what your company actually does every day, not what your company says it does every day.

Work to keep your company actions aligned with your core concepts.

At this point you may have noticed two things about my take on company culture:
I haven’t mentioned anything about the company mission.
I haven’t mentioned “values.”
To address the first point, a solid company culture supports any company objective. Company missions may change over time, and company objectives shift with market conditions.

Your company culture isn’t about what you’re trying to do, it’s about how you do it. A company culture that is too restrictive to tolerate changes in direction is not a successful culture.

On to the second point. Many people use “values” in place of “concepts” in this context. However, “values” also includes things that should be gimmes, like, “honesty.”

Additionally, values tend to be somewhat subjective. Ask two people what “honesty” is, and you’ll likely get two different responses, even if they’re similar.

However, that similarity between the two answers you get is the concept. That’s the part that multiple people can agree on, and that drives the actions that make a person honest.

I use “concepts” in this context because they’re more actionable, and less subjective than “values.”

As a recap, here’s a quick rundown of how to create a successful culture:
1. Identify the actions that comprise the way you want your company to do business everyday.
2. Distill those actions down into core concepts.
3. Communicate those concepts to your teams, and ensure your company actions align with your core concepts.

I’m excited to hear about your successful company culture! Drop me a line with questions or examples of how you have successfully created a positive company culture.