Where Do You Start with Culture?
Over the past few years, we’ve had a good number of company leaders visit Call-Em-All to see what we’re up to (office pictured above). It’s definitely an honor to be viewed as a company that is “doing good things”, and we are always happy to share. The “good things” people want to learn about are really just our culture and its manifestations. After visiting with us, one concerning comment we frequently hear from visitors is that they don’t know how to get started, or even that it seems too daunting to try to build a healthy culture in their company. We believe the secret is in the work and preparation that goes on before even attempting to implement a culture-based idea.
It seems that when people see some of the things we do, there is a tendency not to realize all of the work that went on before we got to where we are today. Rather than diving right in and focusing on a specific project, we believe you should start out by asking yourself a few higher-level questions:
What is it that you want to accomplish?
Do you want to change a small team, run a successful project, start a new company, or completely reshape an entire company culture? Each of these will have its own challenges, and will require different levels of effort. The starting point is to have a clear vision for what you’re intending to do.
Where are you now?
Is your team new or existing? Is the culture healthy or toxic? And don’t overlook your personal leadership. Are you prepared to lead the change you seek? It’s important to audit the status quo before embarking on change.
Do you care enough to make this happen?
I can imagine that some folks think a great culture is a recruiting gimmick, or that it’s really just about free snacks and ping-pong. Alternatively, many of us believe that culture is the ultimate competitive advantage. Know where you stand, and if you aren’t sure - do some research. Even if your goal is smaller than running an entire company, it won’t succeed if the leader isn’t fully engaged. Culture is a never-ending journey. You’ll always have to improve and defend your culture.
If you’re ready to get started, start with yourself.
If you’re going to champion a healthy culture, I recommend you set yourself up for success. That means you have to surround yourself with role models, education, and inspiration. The Small Giants Community is a great place to start, but there are other organizations that champion values-driven leadership, too. Visit model companies from your area or your industry, read books and blogs. Basically, continuously improve your skills. Your team needs and wants a mindful, deliberate, and consciously-competent leader.
Bring in your team.
You might think that you’d now be ready to roll out your new plan to your team. If so, then you might need to go back to the previous step! You’ll have a much higher chance of success if you involve your team and gain buy-in up front. Nobody wants to be told what to do, and everyone likes to have a say. Share your vision with your team and ask them the right questions: how they would like to get there, what do they think makes a great team, etc. Work through it as a group until you have an inspiring vision for where you want to go together.
Live it and breathe it.
Now that you and your team have a common vision, it’s up to you to foster them through the process of making it happen. You’ve got to build strategic plans, schedule meetings, and keep the project moving. Trust me, scheduling a half-day meeting to identify core values will NOT be a big hit with everyone, and it is easy to come up with excuses to put it off. That’s just one example, but this is hard work (remember above when I asked if you cared enough to make it happen?). As you get going, the key is to understand that culture isn’t something you check off a list. It has to be a part of your daily decision making, operations, feedback, hiring and policies. Your culture is strengthened by consistency and accountability, both of which depend on leadership.
As a leader, you’ll know you’re doing it right when you create something bigger than you. The telltale sign is when your team holds you - their leader - accountable to the culture you all created together.