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Walk the Walk to Create Great Company Culture

August 7, 2014

By: Terri Williams

For better or for worse, the way your company functions results from the culture you create. According to Angelo Kinicki, professor of management at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, culture is “the set of shared, taken-for-granted, implicit assumptions that a group holds and that determines how it perceives, thinks about and reacts to its environment.”

Kinicki describes various types of company cultures. For example:

  • Clan cultures emphasize collaboration, teamwork, and employee engagement.
  • Hierarchy cultures focus on control and efficiency.
  • Adhocracy cultures are creative and innovative.
  • Market cultures focus on customers, productivity, and competitiveness.

Your company’s culture is important because it drives everything else in the organization, including strategy and organizational effectiveness. Kinicki lists several ways to build culture:

  • The company’s vision and values
  • The physical space: for example, to increase creativity, open walls, and create places for people to talk and work together.
  • Create company slogans that reinforce the culture you want to create
  • Tell stories about how you interact with customers and employees to reinforce the company values.
  • Reward the type of behavior and actions that align with your values and vision

The most important way to create the company culture is to be an example of the type of culture you want. Your actions will always speak more loudly than any vision or slogan.

You may claim to foster collaboration and teamwork. However, if you create an environment of competitiveness among your employees, they will cease to collaborate because they’re all scrambling for the top positions. Working together or sharing information is counterproductive to coming in the first place as the “best,” or the “top” employee.

Or, your company may profess to be creative and innovative. But if you’ve been doing the same thing in the same way for years, and you’re not open to change, it’s going to be hard to convince your employees that you’re an innovative organization. And as a result of the culture you’ve created, your employees will not continue to present new ideas that they know will be rejected. They learn that “creativity” is just a slogan or a core value, but the company isn’t really committed to it, so they stop bucking against the system.

The same can be said for core values, such as “honesty,” “integrity,” and “excellence.” It’s not enough to frame these words and put them on a wall in the lobby. If management endorses deceptive business practices and encourages workers to take shortcuts to save money - although this results in inferior products or services - the message to employees is that the company really values profits at any cost.

And once they know what the company wants, expects, or demands, the employees will align themselves with the “true” values and work to meet that goal.

Hiring the right employees is another way to create the type of culture you want. If you value people, don’t allow employees – including managers - to harass, mistreat, or bully others. Some companies allow certain employees to act inappropriately because of their highly-valued skill set. However, it would be wise to weigh the cost of keeping an extremely talented individual who behaves poorly against the cost of settling a lawsuit if another employee sues the company over this person’s actions.

To create the type of culture you want, you need to hire people with the type of attitude and work ethic you desire. And once you hire those people, invest in them. Invest in training and education. And then treat them as valued members of the organization.

Create an environment in which they feel comfortable telling you when something isn’t working or think the company is going in the wrong direction. You can’t see everything, be everywhere, or know everything, but by creating the right type of culture, you don’t have to because your employees will provide the necessary feedback to keep you on track.

It’s up to you to create the culture. Good or bad, your company is what you make it.

Terri Williams

Terri Williams began writing professionally in 1997, working with a large nonprofit organization. Her business, education, and lifestyle articles have appeared in various online publications including Yahoo, USA Today, The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report University Directory, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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