Creating the right company culture must be a top priority of every entrepreneur and business leader. Simply speaking, culture-driven businesses put their people first, and people make the business, rather than the other way around. Today’s business mantra must be “Take care of your people and they will take care of your customers.” Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done.
Most entrepreneurs start from a base of one or two co-founders, and their vision and focus is on developing an innovative solution, rather than developing people. When they need more team members, they tend to assume that these will come with the same passion and motivation that the founders feel. Moving these employees to first place, ahead of their solution focus, doesn’t happen automatically or easily.
Once a product-first, customer-second, and employee-last culture is set, it is extremely hard to change. Transforming an existing culture is even harder than setting it correctly at the start, as outlined in the classic book, “Cultural Transformations,” by leadership experts John Mattone and Nick Vaidya. They do believe it can be accomplished, with the six specific steps paraphrased here:
- Culture starts by thinking different and thinking big at the top. In the midst of daily crises and information overload, it takes a strong leader to develop and communicate regularly to employees the “big picture” of where the company is going and why that is a good thing from an employee perspective, as well as for customers and for society.
- Accept the vulnerability of confronting leadership mistakes. The best, most able entrepreneurs, look first at themselves and acknowledge that they make mistakes. They practice one of the most important leadership tenets from an employee perspective – humility. This is necessary to solidify the trust between leaders and team members.
- Communicate what greatness looks like in the roles you need. Team members will never create your desired culture if they don’t know what you expect of them. They need to understand and be rewarded for the desired attributes, competencies, and results. You need to paint a compelling future for your company that they can all connect with.
- Transform team member mindsets, behavior, and results. The more successes you can help them create, the more chances they will have to interpret these wins as permanent, pervasive, and personal. As they rack up – with your leadership – yet more and more positive reference points, they internalize the causes and consequences.
- Find, nurture, and reward talent in support of a compelling future. A key step is to push every talent lever in support of your compelling future. Make sure you are hiring, training, and promoting the future leaders who possess what it takes to create the organization you want. Be sure to differentiate compensation and rewards correctly.
- Measure and measure again, and be quick to course correct. You must have a passionate and diligent focus on key results and required pivots. Most importantly, you must measure the strength and vibrancy of your current culture. As well, you need to focus externally on getting feedback from customers, suppliers, and competitors.
In medicine, prescription before diagnosis is malpractice. In the world of cultural transformation, the same is true. Culture determines engagement levels, not the other way around. Don’t confuse engagement or satisfaction surveys with culture surveys.
According to the authors, a good culture survey will show you the relative strength of the five desired cultures in the organization: the “can do” culture; the “will do culture; the “must do” culture; and the “team performance” culture. All of these combine to determine the health and vibrancy of your overall business.
Perhaps it’s time to take a hard look at the business culture in your organization, and what has transpired or not been done to set or transform it to a higher competitive level. In any case, this effort is not a one-time shot or a sprint, but a marathon. Your long-term business success in today’s world depends on it.
Martin Zwilling is the Founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides services to startup founders around the world. See more details at www.startupprofessionals.com
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