According to Deloitte's research, 94% of executives agree that having a strong company culture is vital to company success. I’d argue that it is one of the only long-term defensible aspects of any company. All technology, patents, and trademarks become obsolete over time. Culture is what drives teams towards consistent excellence and motivates them to innovate and stay ahead of the rest.
But it is never easy to establish and maintain a strong culture.
Leaders often struggle because company culture is ambiguous, difficult to measure, and they don’t know where to start. We have not perfected the formula at Prialto, but we have done a lot right and created a strong foundation on which to build.
My co-founder, Andy Mowat, and I made culture a priority from the start. Though we initially built the company in the tech-centric Bay Area, we were working to reinvent admin services and foster a sense of professionalism and mission focus across borders and socio-economic groups. This allowed us to create a culture that varied from the norm in some very profound ways.
Here are some of the key lessons we learned about building a strong company culture.
Establish a Set of Shared Values
Shared values are the foundation of strong company culture. However, while nearly every company has a set of core values listed in their mission statement, surveys show that just over half of employees know what their company’s values are and only 27% strongly believe in them.
This disconnect between companies’ official values and employee perceptions is one of the major drivers of poor company culture. To revitalize team morale, you need to evaluate if your core values reflect your organization’s purpose and, if they do, incorporate them into your company’s day-to-day decisions and activities.
In Prialto’s early days, my co-founder and I went on a retreat and thought through what values we’d seen helpful in getting us to our first $1 million in revenue. We came away with a set of values we call COILS. Each one contained stories of experiences we’d encountered in near bootstrapping the company to profitability. Even today, I can think of specific people during the early part of the Prialto journey who exuded or failed to live up to each of the COILS.
We wrote them down and began telling everyone we hired why each of these values mattered to us. Because they were real and we took them seriously, prospective employees were appropriately polarized. They were either attracted to the values and our focus on them or repelled. Over time, we’ve worked our values into all of our internal company materials:
- Commitment - The no toe-dipping rule
- Ownership - All problems observed by you are yours until you solve them or get them into the hands of someone who will
- Integrity – The state of being whole and complete, our focus on creating a positive wake
- Learning - A deep and humble sense of curiosity
- Service – Our focus on supporting our clients and each other
Keeping these values at the forefront of our management activities ensures that they remain a vibrant part of our culture.
Create Rewards Systems Based on Your Core Values
Most employees don’t know or care about their organization’s core values because it doesn’t affect their jobs. One of the fastest ways to change that is to tie employee performance to your core values.
There are several ways you can create rewards systems that align with your company culture:
- Give monthly or quarterly awards to employees who best demonstrate your company values. All you need is an award certificate and maybe a small prize.
- Incorporate core values into your performance reviews. This shows employees that their behavior matters just like the results they produce.
- Use your values to drive your hiring process. We ask prospective employees to familiarize themselves with these values and articulate their abilities, past behavior, and interests in working with us through them. This ensures that everyone we hire fits our culture.
Providing feedback and performance evaluations through the lens of your values ensures that every employee understands their importance.
Encourage Teams to Make Your Culture Their Own
Unless you lead a small company where every employee interacts with one another, you’re going to have micro-cultures within departmental and/or geographic teams. Rather than force everyone to practice your culture the same way, encourage your teams to make it their own.
Some groups within your company may practice your culture with lots of team celebrations and bonding activities while others may prefer to engage in deep problem-solving discussions about issues that affect your company’s ability to live up to its mission. You should empower your teams to act on your values in the ways that are the most meaningful to them.
One of the most fulfilling aspects of Prialto’s growth is how I’ve seen our distributed teams in Guatemala, Manila, and Portland adopt and adapt the COILS in different ways. This is how we know the values are alive.
When values are only something written on the wall, they are easy to keep uniform. But they are also stale. When they are alive, their meaning can and should be continuously debated and evolving. In any given week, for example, we will confront client and employee issues in which we will debate both the meaning of integrity and whether a decision measures up to that meaning.
What’s key, though, is that the broader team cares and believes enough to engage in this discussion and debate.
About the Author: Eric Taussig is Prialto's founder/ CEO. He speaks and writes about the future of work, global workforce, and employee happiness issues. His ideas have been featured on National Public Radio and in places like Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine and Inc. Magazine.