Last week on the Corporate Data Show, we set all the technical jargon and acronyms aside and discussed something a little easier to explain but even harder to attain: company culture. Our CEO, Rick Holmes, sat down on zoom with Gil Allouche of Metadata.io to talk the ins and outs of culture: Why is it so important? Where do a lot of companies go wrong? How can you perfect yours?
If you didn’t listen to the episode, we highly recommend you do. Of course, we’re biased and always appreciate more clicks, but it’s also a nice overview of the topic from two CEOs who have had their fair share of experience cultivating company culture. Once you’ve given it a listen, pop back on over here to the blog, brew up a cup of joe, and read on for a more in-depth look at the topic.
Why culture is key
Before we can get into the company happy hours and bean bag chairs, it’s crucial to understand why company culture is so important to begin with. Before recording the most recent episode of the Corporate Data Show, we actually debated centering it around two different topics: company growth or company culture. Of course, every company wants to grow, so this seemed like a great topic, but Rick pointed out that without solid company culture, company growth is just going to cause your organization to spiral out of your control. Thus, we decided to focus on culture.
The above point is what it really all comes down to: good culture is the foundation of your company. And just like any other solid foundation, you have to build it well from the start; you can’t go back and fix it after you’ve built something on top of it. Take the example provided in the podcast, originally from Ben Horowitz’s novel, What You Do Is Who You Are. In his book, Horowitz details the story of a prisoner who came to lead a cell house gang through violent and otherwise unsavory methods. After taking control, he looked back upon the pile of bodies in his wake (some metaphorical and some not so much), and realized that he had not truly accomplished anything great.
This may sound a little extreme, as poor culture in your organization hopefully won’t lead to prison yard brawls, but it's a fitting analogy. If you just blaze ahead with nothing in mind but reaching the top, you're likely not going to be satisfied with what you've built when you get there. After experiencing struggles regarding culture early in their careers, Rick and Gil both agree that the only way to ensure healthy company growth is by establishing healthy company culture early on.
Common mistakes that lead to a toxic workplace
So what even is a toxic workplace? It can manifest in many different forms, but there are a lot of telltale signs: high turnover rate, decreased quality of work, illnesses among employees, unnecessary tension between colleagues – the list goes on. These are all largely avoidable, but you need to know what mistakes might cause them, so that you don’t make them yourself.
Failure to outline core values
A lot of companies make the same blunders leading to toxic workplace environments, which is unfortunate for the folks they employ(ed), but provides valuable lessons for the rest of us. The most common of these, which we’ll discuss in more detail in the next section, is a lack of core values within your organization. Or, if you have core values, you haven’t put them in writing and ensured that all of your employees are aware of them. If nobody at your company knows conduct codes, moral expectations, etc., things will likely devolve into bitterness and toxicity fairly quickly.
Poor communication and constructive criticism
An issue that often goes hand in hand with lack of core values is poor leadership. This doesn’t mean those in charge are terrible people or don’t care about their employees; it just means they’re not the best at communicating with and managing them. This includes any number of shortcomings: failure to provide effective and consistent feedback, failure to seek feedback themselves, or hollow promises when grievances do arise. So, as with everything, stellar culture starts with stellar leaders.
Refusing to learn new tricks
One major hindrance to many companies is refusal to let go of the “way things have always been done.” This goes along with receiving and addressing feedback, but it also extends to things like technological advances or societal changes that affect your employees. If there are trends or technologies that will make your employee’s work easier or even more enjoyable and you actively choose not to adapt to that, you’re making a major mistake. Now more than ever, talented professionals expect companies to change and adapt with the times, and failure to do so could spell disaster.
Now that we’ve identified some common missteps along the trail to amazing company culture, we can talk about how to stay on track.
How to improve your culture
There’s no set in stone way to guarantee exceptional company culture, but luckily, there are some best practices you could and should keep in mind.
Write it down
The first is to put your values in writing. You know how they say taking notes by hand helps you to remember what you learned? Well, writing down what your company stands for works the same way. By having a written statement of your values, you hold yourself and other leaders of your organization accountable to live up to that every day when you step into your office. Furthermore, it gives you something to put in your employee handbooks. This way, you can clearly communicate to each and every new employee what is expected of them in the workplace, whether it pertains to productivity or simply being a good person.
Communicate, communicate, and communicate some more
Speaking of clear communication, setting up effective channels for doing so and then actually using them is crucial in maintaining good culture. Here at EMM, we have it written in our culture documentation that employees should over-communicate. The way we see it, while it might be overkill to communicate every little detail of your work and what you need from your colleagues, it’s far better than risking something slipping through the cracks. We couldn’t tell you how many stories we’ve heard of people leaving jobs because they felt unheard, and therefore unappreciated, by others in their company, often those in the C-suite. So remember: it’s just as important, if not moreso, for you to listen to your team as it is for them to listen to you.
Plan for success
Since the whole reason you want great culture is so that you don’t fall apart as soon as your company grows larger, it’s important to plan for growth from the beginning. Don’t create your values and expectations based off the size your organization is now; create them with the expectation of becoming larger than you think you’re going to. This way, when you do grow, you’ll be prepared.
Switch it up
Finally, we have to admit that we lied in our introduction. We said we’d talk about perfecting your company culture, but the truth is: you never will. You can’t create one-size-fits-all solutions, so you’ll need to learn from every situation and even every employee that comes through your doors. The most dangerous thing you can do when running a company is get set in your ways and fail to adapt and evolve. The ability to do so will come from listening to your employees, keeping an ear to the ground, and ensuring that your written values are a living document, subject to change when it’s appropriate.
At the end of the day, what's most important is building a company and a brand you’re proud of. As Rick concludes the episode, he points out that it's more important to be truly fulfilled in your work than to score big wins every single day. So, keep your values in mind in everything you do, and your team will follow suit.
If you’ve got any questions about this topic or any others, we’d be happy to chat. Just hop on over to our contact page and write us a little love letter. (We’re serious. If it doesn’t start with “My dearest,” we’re not answering it.) In the meantime, be sure to check out our other blogs, the Corporate Data Show, and our LinkedIn for more hard-hitting tips on how to improve your company culture, workflow, and ultimately, make more sales.
The Corporate Data Show is a podcast dedicated to helping marketing and data professionals leverage data to generate revenue for their company. To listen to all of our episodes, visit our website or your favorite podcast player.