BY JAMES BLAIN
Company culture isn’t new, but with companies struggling to hire it has become a hot topic and even touted as a cure-all. Although it plays a key role in attracting and hiring new employees, as well as keeping your longtime staff, it’s often misunderstood. This four-part article series will help make you a true company culture expert; however, before you can master it, you first have to understand what it actually is.
The ideas that most people have about company culture are focused on the wrong things. When you first read the title, visions of pizza parties, happy hours, and team-building exercises probably popped into your head, and while these perks and benefits are important for maintaining employee morale, none embody the actual company culture itself.
Company culture is made up of the expectations—written and, more importantly, unwritten—that define how employees are expected to behave and interact at work. This extends to the way the team is treated, the values the company upholds, and the way things are done. It also sets the tone for how staff interact with each other and clients.
If you’re struggling with the concept, you’re not alone—many leaders of the world’s largest companies are still baffled by the how and why of what makes for great company culture. Renowned management consultant and business author Peter Drucker is credited with saying “Company culture eats strategy for breakfast”: You can have the best strategy and growth plan laid out, but your culture is the oil that keeps the machine moving ... or derails your progress.
Common myths and misconceptions about company culture
Myth: Company culture is only important for large businesses.
Reality: Even if you have only one employee, company culture plays a role in the way your business operates. Every business with employees develops its own culture, even if there isn’t someone at the company actively shaping it. This in turn can affect everything from productivity to the way employees interact with each other and clients.
Myth: Company culture is the same in every part of the business.
Reality: Any time you have different parts of a business or people that aren’t working in the same physical space, their culture can drift apart (this is critical for your chauffeur team as well as your remote employees who may not interact with their co-workers every day). The best way to avoid this is to ensure that everyone is following the same procedures and upholding the same values.
Myth: Company culture is the responsibility of HR alone.
Reality: Company culture isn’t just an HR “thing,” it’s a people thing. If you want to have healthy working relationships, you have to ensure you have a healthy company culture.
Myth: Company culture can’t be changed.
Reality: Your culture CAN be changed if it’s not working well for your business; in fact, it’s ever-changing in many organizations because it’s based on people. However, once it is established it will require effort, consistency, and a bit of elbow grease to make that turn toward something different. This also becomes more difficult the larger a company is and the longer the non-optimal culture has been allowed to persist. Depending on how radical the shift needs to be, it may also require letting employees go who aren’t willing to adapt to the new culture. This is why it is so important to keep control of and actively shape it.
Myth: Company culture doesn’t affect the bottom line.
Reality: This myth couldn’t be any further from the truth. Company culture defines how the people who make up your business behave, interact, and do their day-to-day work. Remember the Drucker quote? Culture is one of the few things you can work on actively developing that can lead to gains in almost every part of your business.
❱ Company Values
Values play a central role in company culture. They define how employees should behave and what they should strive for. Values help employees stay focused on the company’s goals and provide a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves. They also create a sense of shared purpose. Company cultures that are based on strong values are more likely to be successful. So, it’s important to choose the right ones for your business and live by them.
❱ The Role of Employees
When it comes to company culture there is nothing more dangerous than having an employee or group of employees who are viewed as replaceable and undervalued. More often than not, in our industry, that group of employees is chauffeurs. Without them we would quite literally be at a standstill, but since they make up the largest group of employees they often get thought of as interchangeable or replaceable. These views often start at the top and make their way down through management and even dispatch. More so, how long before they start thinking of themselves that way and treat your customers accordingly? Although it may never be said out loud, actions often speak louder than words.
Not valuing or thinking of an employee as replaceable can take the form of a lack of training, lack of interest in their personal success, the way they are talked about (or even ignored), or the way they are treated. It can even show up in interactions between drivers and dispatchers, when drivers are told they will be doing additional trips instead of being asked to do them. Chauffeurs and other employees who work in companies with these kinds of cultures are more likely to become burned out and eventually look for another job where they will be respected for their contribution to the company.
Organizations that have a culture that values and empowers drivers find that they have much higher retention rates, and their team is more engaged. Drivers at these companies are also more likely to go above and beyond for both the company and their passengers.
❱ The Impact on Your Clients
As an owner or even a manager, unless you are going to answer calls, take reservations, and drive every trip yourself, you will be reaching your clients through your employees. You may never actually interact with a client at all. Instead, it will be up to your reservation agents, dispatchers, and ultimately your drivers to ensure that your passengers have an experience and not just a ride.
The way that each person in those roles thinks about your clients and the value they place on them will directly impact the way they interact and serve them. If your company culture is one where employees view clients as a commodity, then your team isn’t going to provide the level of service and respect your clients deserve. On the other hand, if you develop a culture where the client is valued and one of the most important parts of the business, your team will talk, interact with, and treat them that way.
❱ Positive vs. Negative Company Culture
It’s human nature to try and make things positive or negative. We love things that are binary, right or wrong, on or off, up or down, day or night, and the list goes on. So naturally, it can be tempting to view company culture as either positive or negative, and as a result, we can get stuck trying to fix things that weren’t broken and missing what was wrong altogether. Just because one part of your culture needs to be reshaped doesn’t mean that there aren’t other parts that are working.
Company culture is made up of many different elements, and those things can be positive or negative. Healthy company cultures are built on respect. Employees need to trust that their company is looking out for their best interests, and they need to know that the organization will stand by them when things get tough.
The key to creating a positive culture is to focus on the aspects that matter. While free food and fun team-building exercises may be enjoyable, they’re window dressing if you’re overlooking the underlying issues. The key is to make sure that employees feel appreciated and respected, and that they understand the company’s values. Company culture should also be evident in the way employees interact with each other. Not everyone has to be friends, but there should be a sense of mutual respect and cooperation, and employees should feel like they are part of a team with a common goal: to create the best customer experience. If you think of your detailer or the part-time reservationist, for example, as a body filling a role rather than a critical part of the process, then they too will start thinking of their job (and eventually the person) as unimportant.
There are a few essential things to keep in mind when it comes to company culture. Most importantly, it is defined by the way your employees are treated, the values your company upholds, and the way things are done day to day. It can’t be said enough: the tone that your culture sets will define how employees interact with each other and with customers. Now that you have a better understanding of what company culture is—and isn’t— we will take a deeper dive into how to take control and actively shape it in next month’s article. [CD0822]
James Blain is president of PAX Training. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.