There are so many things mistaken for good company “culture” these days. Businesses are celebrated for allowing employees to come to work in sweats and for doling out free lunches. But that all-you-can-eat organic food at the company cafeteria or nap pods (they do sound great) could just be masking the sad state of the company culture that lies beneath. While these creative perks can foster a great work environment, there usually has to be a complete package.
Here are five things you can start doing now to build a better company culture.
1. Hire the right people.
People are a business’s greatest resource and hiring the wrong people can be detrimental to your success. A person that doesn’t do his work is certainly wrong for the job, but someone who isn’t the right fit can be just as harmful, regardless of how hard they work. Some companies mistakenly believe that this means hire the same people but a combination of different backgrounds, talents and interests can be much more resourceful than a team of like-minded clones. My team sought me out because my background was more technical than theirs, and I identify with the younger generation of our target demographic. We all bring very different ideas to the table, which is far more productive than always agreeing with each other.
2. Use tech to break down barriers.
Good ideas can come from anywhere, but things like fear, shyness and groupthink keep good ideas in people’s heads rather than out in front of the group. Use software tools like Attentiv, which helps enable introverts and brings out the best ideas by giving your team a level field of participation. Or Sqwiggle, which keeps your team in the loop regardless of distance -- a particularly useful tool for remote teams like us at Unfettered Socks. Taking advantage of the right tech for your team can overcome a lot of hurdles your company faces in its culture mission.
3. Support failure.
Supporting failure may seem counterintuitive. While you don’t want your employees failing 100 percent of the time, taking away the fear of failure can free up employees to not just win but win bigger than they ever would have had they been afraid to fail. The most successful ventures and projects usually require a modicum of risk.
The way our company sees it, if we clearly communicate the risk in advance, do our best to mitigate that risk, and we all decide to take the leap together, any resulting failure is a shared failure that we will all learn from. My partners give me free reign to test out different marketing platforms and ways of communicating with our consumers, with the understanding that if it’s not working, we’ll halt the investment in that channel.
4. Use perks to send the right signals.
Align your benefits to the culture you want to create. Some leaders might say, our employees are working so hard that they don’t have time to stop for lunch, so we bring lunch to them. Or, our team is responsible enough to get things done without a set schedule, so we let them decide their hours. Or even, our team needs to have creative, socially relevant ideas, so we pay for their Netflix. Just make sure the perk matches the truth. Otherwise you’re just luring people in with bribes that are sure to get stale after a while. It’s the aligned and best fit employees that will stay happy and committed in the long term.
5. Don’t let titles restrict roles.
Most companies couldn’t function without employees having set roles that they fill. But this doesn’t mean those employees have to be restricted to those roles, especially if they have more to offer in other areas. You should want to hear your sales engineer’s ideas about marketing even though marketing’s not in her title. An accountant should be free to put his product idea out for consideration even though he usually crunches numbers.
Gaming-company Valve is one company that is doing this. The business doesn’t have set roles or any official hierarchy. Instead, roles are determined by what people bring to their projects. Not every organization can function this way, but your culture can certainly benefit from less-restrictive roles. My partner who focuses on our finances and logistics still often steps up to the plate when it’s time to pitch our business (his knowledge and expertise do just as good a job of selling our idea as our salesman and product lead).
Early on, company culture is typically set from the top down, but as companies scale, culture begins to shape itself from the bottom up. Taking the time to map out how you can best apply these five tips to form the best culture for your organization can prepare you for growth down the road. Start now and make culture more than just a buzzword for your employees. Culture fuels creativity -- and vice versa -- so make sure not to let it fall to the wayside.