Ask Doug and Polly: How to Create a Positive Small Business Culture | Local business news

BY DOUG AND POLLY WHITE Special Envoys

QUESTION: I own a small business. I want to build a positive culture. I think it’s essential for long term success, but I don’t know how to do it. In fact, I don’t even really know how to define culture. Can you help ?

ANSWER: Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography, “It’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it.” Similarly, a great corporate culture can be hard to define, but you know it when you see it. When you walk down the halls of a company with a great culture, you know it. Certainly, when you work there, you know it.

Defining corporate culture can be difficult, but we’ve been using a pretty simple definition for years: “Culture is how you get things done.” It’s so simple. It is also complex. How do you decide how things are going to be done? One thing is for sure, it starts at the top. It also starts at the beginning. A company’s culture is not something that is built after “growing up”. Culture is formed from day one.

The first step in developing culture is to be deliberate about what you want. Do you want a company where hard work is the norm or do you focus more on work/life balance? Spend some time determining what you want your values ​​to be. Your company will develop a culture, implicitly or explicitly. Explicitly decide what you want and take deliberate steps to achieve it.

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You will create the culture of your company. Your decisions, your reactions, the things you praise, the things you reward, and the behaviors you discourage will determine your company culture. For example, if you want hard work to be part of your culture, you’ll need to demonstrate it by working hard yourself. Starting your days between 9:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. and leaving every day at 4:30 a.m. will not be enough. You will also have to expect and demand hard work from your staff. You’ll want to praise your employees when they go above and beyond and call the slacker on the mat.

Company culture is often passed down from an experienced employee to a new hire in the form of stories. Your actions will determine the stories that will be told in your business. At McKinsey & Company, one of the world’s leading management consultancies, new partners are told stories of Marvin Bower, the firm’s patriarch, turning down lucrative deals because he didn’t think the client would implement the recommendations. Marvin didn’t want to accept fees when he didn’t think the client would benefit – he felt it was imperative to put the best interests of the client before the best interests of the company. This story took place in the 1930s, at a time when the fledgling company could ill afford to give up its income. It was still being told 60 years later, and we suspect it is still being told today.

Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM wanted to create a culture that embraces failure and mistakes. He is quoted as saying, “The way to success is to double your error rate.” Although Thomas Watson died in 1956, his legend of embracing failure and mistakes lives on. You may have heard the story of an IBM employee in the 1940s who made a mistake that cost the company about a million dollars. A million dollars is a lot of money now. It was much more in the 1940s. Knowing he was about to be fired, the employee typed up his resignation letter and gave it to Watson. Watson replied, “Fire you? I just invested a million dollars in your education, and you think I’m gonna fire you? »

Capital One values ​​analytical rigor. Stories abound of the early days when Rich Fairbank and Nigel Morris (the CEO and COO) met with business analysts to ensure the analysis was accurate and to flesh out the details of credit card offers .

Stories are a powerful way to communicate how things are done, the culture of the place. Sometimes leaders seek to solidify the culture by writing the stories. Marvin Bower has published a book called Perspective on McKinsey. It was given to each new associate, but was never distributed outside the company.

Bill Marriott wrote The Spirit to Serve, Marriott’s Way and put it on the bedside table of every Marriott hotel. None of these authors were trying to make money off their book. They were solidifying the culture of a company they loved.

With many employees working remotely, it’s increasingly difficult to create the culture you desire. This is an issue that has yet to be resolved, but employers will need to find ways to ensure new hires hear the stories they may have heard around the water cooler. Alternatively, we may end up concluding that culture is less important in a world where workers do not interact with each other. Time will tell us.

However you define culture and how it is communicated; Historically, there are very few things in business that are more important than your company culture. We may be on the eve of a world where culture will matter less, but we don’t think so.

Doug and Polly White own a significant stake in Gather, a company that designs, builds and operates collaborative workspaces. Polly focuses on human resources, people management and human systems. Doug’s areas of expertise are business strategy, operations and finance.

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