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Friday, June 14, 2024


In our last article, Company Culture Isn’t What You Think, we covered what company culture is as well as the myths surrounding it. Although this article will still be a great tool in learning how to create or change your company’s culture, reading Part 1 will help you get the most out of it (which you can read here:

You Can’t Fake It...
There are times when “fake it till you make it” will help get you to the right place ... eventually. However, it cannot be stressed enough that this DOES NOT apply to company culture. Trying to take that approach will lead to a hollow culture that isn’t based on being genuine and honest—it’s something you have to put true time and care into to make it work.

James Blain Company Culture Changing the Culture You Have
Building a company culture from scratch at a new operation can be fun and exciting, but this won’t apply to most readers because you’re already running an established business with an existing culture. Unless you are new to a company as an owner or manager, you first need to start by looking at yourself if you want to make a meaningful change. Remember, you too are a part of your culture; your actions matter and will be emulated.

This change often also extends to the way you are thinking about your culture itself. The key to creating a positive company culture is to focus on the things that matter to you and your company. In many cases, this means taking a hard look at what you don’t like about it and taking steps to correct it. Sometimes just identifying what you don’t like and working to change it is enough; however, other times you may need to take more drastic measures and even part ways with employees who aren’t willing to adapt to the new environment you are creating.

Two Sides of the Company Culture Coin
Before you can start shaping your company’s culture you need to understand that, just like a coin, it has two sides, both of which will require work.

Heads: The face of the coin is how you officially and formally define your culture. It encompasses things like your company’s values, mission statement, and your written procedures. Think of it as the way your culture is outlined on paper. This is what officially and formally describes what is expected of your team and sets the posted rules that create the structure for your culture.

James Blain Company Culture Tails: The back side of the coin is what actually happens day to day in your company. It is the way your employees interact with each other and with your customers and encompasses things like morale, how decisions are made, and how well employees are treated. It is the way your company operates in the real world. To put it another way, it’s informally defined by things like office politics, social dynamics, and relationships.

Which Side Should You Focus on First?
If your company culture is healthy and consistent, both of these areas should be reflections of each other. Although they may not always be perfectly in sync, the two should complement each other.

In most cases, if there is a culture problem, it is with how the culture is being implemented or what is actually going on daily in your office. These types of issues also often make their way to new employees when someone says, “I know you were taught that, but we actually do this,” which is what you are attempting to prevent.

Most companies tend to focus on the documented side of their culture, but if you want to create a truly great culture you need to focus on both equally. Your focus has to be shared between what your culture is on paper and what the reality is in practice. You’ll spin your wheels if you’re not adjusting both.

James Blain Company Culture Deciding Who You Want to Be
Although it may sound obvious, the first step you need to take in defining your culture is to figure out how you want your culture to be. For many, this is the most difficult step—it is easy to come up with words that sound good, but it can be hard to articulate how that translates to actually making it happen.

A good way to approach this is to think of your culture as a person.

❱ How would you describe their personality?
❱ Are they serious, funny, or playful?
❱ Do they make you feel important, or do they make you smile? Maybe they do both?
❱ How do they dress?
❱ How do they carry themselves?
❱ What do they stand for? What are the values that guide them?

Once you have a clear picture of what this looks like, you can start addressing the individual components that you’re looking to keep, do better, immediately remove, or change.

Defining Your Values
One of the most important aspects of shaping your company culture is formalizing your organization’s values. Values are the guiding principles that dictate how your employees should behave, and they provide a sense of shared purpose that defines what your company is all about.

Company cultures that are based on strong values are more likely to be successful than those that aren’t. They help employees stay focused on the mission and provide a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves. You could say that it helps to build that feeling of being a team.

When choosing which values to include in your company culture, it’s important to think again about your organization’s mission and goals. Some of the most common values include customer service, safety, teamwork, integrity, innovation, and accountability, but it’s not limited to that list. It’s also imperative that everyone in the company is on board with the values and that they are communicated effectively to employees. A lack of clarity about these values or employees who aren’t upholding those values can lead to conflict and undermine a healthy company culture.

For example, if one of the company’s values is customer service, employees should be encouraged to ask themselves what they are doing to live up to your expectation of excellence. If another of the company’s values is safety, employees should be encouraged to do their part to stop anything that might be unsafe, even if it isn’t something that falls under their direct responsibility. Company culture should also be evident in the way employees interact with each other. There should be a sense of respect and cooperation, and employees should feel like they are part of a team.

Outlining Your Culture
Once you know your values you can start to outline your culture. Begin by making a general outline of what you want your ideal company to look like, but don’t focus on rules or policies. Just outline your key areas.

❱ How should they talk to each other?
❱ What is and isn’t OK?
❱ Can they be playful or joke around?
❱ What type of overall atmosphere should they try to maintain?

❱ What is the relationship between an employee and the client?
❱ What should every employee be thinking when they interact with clients?
❱ What is and isn’t OK to do or say around clients?
❱ What interactions are appropriate and inappropriate?

Keep in mind that this is a practical outline for what you want your culture to be. You should be setting things out in general terms and you shouldn’t account for every possible scenario, but it also can’t be as vague as “act professional” or “be polite.” Give them the tools to understand what this outline means. Done properly, you should have your roadmap.

Holding Up the Mirror
This is one of the most critical steps and the one where you are most likely to stumble or fall flat on your face. You know what you want your culture to be: That means when someone isn’t acting the way they should you have to let them know that isn’t acceptable. This is especially true when it comes to looking at yourself in the mirror. There will be times you will have to correct what YOU are doing and ask yourself if your behavior embodies the company culture you are striving to achieve. Although it can also be a struggle you should be OK with others pointing this out to you as well.

Now that you’ve tackled how to identify and story-board your preferred culture, you’re well on your way to making meaningful change. In the next part of the series, I will address the connection between your culture and its impact on your company’s long-term goals and growth.   [CD0922]

James Blain is President of PAX Training. He can be reached at