How to Cultivate the Perfect Company Culture

Creative company cultures that first flourished in the late 1990s, exemplified by dot-com businesses with casual dress codes and free vanilla cappuccinos, changed the expectations employees have about working. Certain parts of that perk-plentiful culture survived the dot-com meltdown, but so did one simple truth: You can’t keep employees working at jobs where they don’t feel comfortable or respected.

In the Society for Human Resource Management's 2015 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey, 72% of respondents said that “respectful treatment” was the most important factor in job happiness. “Trust between workers and management” scored second place at 64%.

On the other side of HR, according to some new Deloitte research, employers have a retention crisis on their hands. More than half the business leaders surveyed by Deloitte reported culture, engagement and employee retention as the top talent challenges facing them.

Based on those results, how happy are your employees? Happy enough, you think. But in reality, the boss is always the last to know. You could be sitting on a land mine of unrest and discontent. Over time, a disgruntled employee might have spread his or her negativity to the rest of the crew, building up resentment and a great divide between you and your team.

Sound too dramatic? Maybe, but as the economy picks up and more jobs become available, it’s going to get even tougher to keep your top talent. That's where building a great company culture comes in.

How does your company culture fit into the picture, you wonder? Well, if employees won't hold their negativity back in the workplace, then he or she won't hesitate to use social media sites like LinkedIn and Glassdoor to vent those frustrations to current and future employees. Like it or not, those are the perfect places for your HR reputation to either take a beating or be lauded as a great place to work.

How Do I Know If My Company Has a Culture Problem?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How are your people skills?
  • Are you interested in other people’s lives?
  • Are you short-tempered and impatient?
  • Are you particular about how things get done?
  • Do you listen to suggestions from your staff about new ways to do things?
  • Are you detail-oriented? Do you consider yourself an organized person?

You’ll know by how you answer these questions if you’re likely to have a company culture problem.

If Things Look Bad, Where Do I Start?

As you can guess, improving your company culture starts with you. You may say you want a fun and relaxed atmosphere, which is fine. But if your attitude and expectations portray something else, your employees won’t know how to react.

To improve your company culture, start by doing a thorough analysis of your skills as a manager. We’re not talking about your business prowess. If you’ve started a business and hired employees, you’re either very lucky, or have been blessed with a brain for business. Being a good manager is not necessarily the same thing.

It took me a lot of years to hone my management skills. I tend to be very trusting and want to include everyone in everything, which works well for my business, but may not for yours. I also knew how to pick managers who could make smart decisions without having to check with me first. I learned that the more responsibility and independence my staff had, the more engaged and loyal they became.

That’s not to say I never had a bad apple in the bunch. Of course I did, but because I had already built a strong, dedicated staff, the bad seeds knew they didn’t fit in and left.

Gallup’s research shows only 31% of employees are engaged at work. What's even more sobering is that 51% say they are not engaged, and 17.5% say they are "actively disengaged." Unfortunately, we employers only have ourselves to blame. Studies prove organizations that show a high regard for employees are more likely to motivate them to go above and beyond the minimum requirements of their jobs.

To build a high-performance and motivational culture in my company, I’ve tried to employ some simple approaches I read about in another Gallup study about high-performance cultures. The methods are basic, but good reminders:

  • Maintain a well thought-out performance reward system. You can’t ever play favorites or even create a perception of favoritism. When you reward employees, be consistent and clear about how the reward was achieved.
  • Be clear on your expectations, goals and objectives. Ask how progress is being made and be open to questions employees need to ask to get the job done right.
  • Gallup’s research showed companies that didn’t empower employees also lacked trust and accountability.

And it likely wouldn’t hurt to throw in some free food every once in a while.

I know it’s hard to let go of certain responsibilities, especially when it’s your business, but employees with authority and accountability are more engaged. Plus, engaged employees are more likely to recognize and respond to changing information from the marketplace, help develop innovative ideas to meet market demands and stay ahead of the competition, and connect better with customers.

Delegating gives you more time to work on strategy, which will enable you to do what you love: growing your business.