1. Learn from the past.
We all have experiences from which we can draw valuable lessons. If you’re a first-time founder, examine the corporate cultures of organizations you worked for before. What worked for you in those cultures? What didn’t? Similarly, if you’re a seasoned entrepreneur, think about the cultures you already created. What cultivated success?
2. Create a culture that aligns with your core values.
This is your business. You’re driving it, and you need to infuse who you are into what you do. Otherwise, it won’t work. Think about your personality and, more importantly, your core values. Are you ingeniously innovative or unwittingly creative? Do you foster a work hard, play hard mentality?
Are you relaxed but also expect the best from people? If so, create that balance of work and play. Are you a true collaborator? Then advance that behavior in your company and promote the people who get it. Do you expect the Disney level of customer service from every one at every level? Then hire people who display that spark, smile, and personality.
Take time to reflect on who you are, the vibe you want to radiate, and, ultimately, the kind of culture that fits both you and your brand.
3. Find great people who compliment you.
Round out your corporate culture by hiring people who offer different experiences than yours. As tempting as it may be, avoid hiring a “mini-me.” Identify your strengths and weaknesses, then fill in the gaps.
For example, if you are an amazing innovator but fall short when it comes to running the numbers, bring in a savvy financial officer. If you are a risk taker, hire someone who is more conservative. Diverse perspectives grounded in a shared vision are worth their weight in gold. Again, just be sure not to sacrifice your core values.
So when developing culture, talk with each other. This might sound trite, but it’s easier said than done. People need to be able to share their ideas and speak openly without fear of repercussion. People want their opinions heard, and they want to feel good.
5. Have fun.
It’s simple: a little fun goes a long way. Granted this looks different for every business. A tech company can get away with more fun than perhaps a law firm or hospital. But there are ways to engage employees in activities that feel less like work. For example, declare half-day Fridays during the summer, take your team indoor rock climbing, go to a wine tasting after work hours or hold a contest. Just do something out of context and give people the freedom to relax, show up in a different way and have fun.
6. Work as a team.
Stop thinking of people in terms of “employees” or “departments.” You’re all part of the same team, so act like it. Rallying around the idea “we’re all in this together” builds a sense of unity and community, which fosters culture.
The best people are team players who truly support the company, its founders, management and co-workers.
7. Maintain and carefully evolve your culture.
Culture is not something you put in place and expect it to stay forever. It takes work. You need to nurture it. You also need to give it the freedom to evolve. If you cling too tightly to your culture, you risk smothering it. Protect it, yes, but understand that your culture will shrink and swell — and that’s okay so long as it maintains its core.