Building a Great Culture in Your Business

Everyone talks about culture. Everyone believes that a good culture is necessary to success in business. Yet, our understanding of what it takes to build a great culture is amazingly immature because, in part, we don’t know how to define what culture is. Consider these definitions that a quick Google search will give you:

“In other words culture can be defined as an evolving set of collective beliefs, values and attitudes. Culture is a key component in business and has an impact on the strategic direction of business. Culture influences management, decisions and all business functions from accounting to production.” (From www.businessculture.org)

“Corporate culture refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions. Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires. A company’s culture will be reflected in its dress code, business hours, office setup, employee benefits, turnover, hiring decisions, treatment of clients, client satisfaction and every other aspect of operations.” (Investopedia)

“A blend of the values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals and myths all companies develop over time.” (Entrepreneur.com)

“Corporate culture refers to the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature. Corporate culture is rooted in an organization’s goals, strategies, structure, and approaches to labor, customers, investors, and the greater community. As such, it is an essential component in any business’s ultimate success or failure. Closely related concepts, discussed elsewhere in this volume, are corporate ethics (which formally state the company’s values) and corporate image (which is the public perception of the corporate culture).” (Inc.com)

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) says culture is the output of mixing these six elements together:

  1. Vision
  2. Values
  3. Practices
  4. People
  5. Narrative
  6. Place

This Forbes article defines business culture as a conflict that exists between two social contracts: the value of production vs. the value of innovation.

When you take a long step back and look at these different definitions of culture, it’s no wonder that culture means different things to different people. So, how do we build a great culture when we can’t even define what culture is?

Steps to Building a Great Business Culture

If you look at the common themes in the definitions presented above, you’ll find that values, beliefs and behaviors are mentioned, in one way or another, in nearly every definition above. If one were to look at the Christian Business Reference Architecture, one would find this architecture is rather strong in the areas of developing a great business culture. But, consistent with the architecture’s assumption that our personal dysfunction will be imprinted onto our businesses and that the problems resulting from our personal dysfunction will be seen as business problems by the owner, not personal problems, the creation of a great business culture must start with the Christian Business Owner.

When I consult with small businesses on how to build a great culture, I always start with the Executive – the owner. We first must get the leadership on board and moving in the same direction, exhibiting all of the traits and characteristics of the new culture we want to develop in the company. How do we do this?

First, the owners need to look at themselves and go through a process of coaching that will result in the minimizing of their personal dysfunction in their own organization.

Secondly, the owners need to develop their personal leadership philosophy, publish that to the organization, then live by it religiously.

Thirdly, most organizations have a set of core values. Often they have definitions of those core values. I take this a step further and ask them to write down 3-5 behavioral statements that illustrate when the core value is being lived out and when it is being violated in the company. Behavioralizing the core values is a necessary part of the culture’s development.

Fourthly, conflict resolution is essential to any organization being successful. Most companies die, in the end, because they couldn’t resolve their most important problems. So, I take the time to develop a conflict resolution value within the organization and then teach conflict resolution skills to every person in the organization. Getting everyone one board with conflict resolution is essential to building a great culture in one’s organization.

Fifthly, vision cast with each employee and give them a path forward for professional development that leads to career security instead of job security.  Show them how far your company can take them down the road toward their goals and the offer to do what you can to help “you be a better you”.

Lastly, governance of the organization must be considered. How the senior leadership interacts with its’ board and outside authorities is essential to upholding and furthering the culture of the organization. In addition, how the inherent power imbalances between senior leadership and employees are minimized so that real conflict resolution can take place is also essential to the organization moving forward.

To be successful in an organization that lives out its’ core values and is good at resolving conflict, people will need to have the personal characteristics of honesty, integrity, humility and coach-ability. This includes the owners as well as the newest of employees.

In my 67 Undeniable Truths of Business Ownership, I assert that Culture trumps strategy. I really believe this. Because embedded within the building of a great culture is where we find our skills as an organization to define, face and resolve problems. We learn how to live together in a business community and work together for a common purpose that is beneficial to all of us. We learn to support each other and, at times, hold each other accountable. And in so doing, we live out our shared core values.

If you need to develop a better culture in your business, use these steps as a starting point. If you want some assistance, you’re welcome to get in touch with me at bill @ Bibleandbusiness.com.

Bill English
Founder, Bible and Business

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