"Great leaders inspire. They pull in talented and high-performing staffers. But behind each powerful leader you'll find something equally powerful: a company culture that motivates people to work hard and stay with the business."
As long as you have a business, you have a company culture. Instead of leaving it to grow on its own, you can nurture it and make it into something that will breed loyalty and motivation. Creating a strong culture—one of fun, sharing, collaboration, and connection—can be done in five simple steps, according to Carol Skube, a Minneapolis-based human resources consultant.
Step 1: Understand
A strong culture is founded on more than just paid lunches or personalized parking spaces. Great leaders understand what is important to their employees. As a business leader, developing a strong company culture starts when you take steps to find out what motivates the people who work for you.
The process of understanding starts with communication. Talk to your employees to find out what you both expect from the job, Skube says. This will help you clarify your expectations of your staff and, in turn, help you learn what motivates them. It will also send a message to your staff that collaboration and communication are important to your company.
As you talk to your employees, you also will learn what's important to them. This understanding will help you build a culture of fun and sharing that is appropriate for your company, rather than one based on your idea of what people might enjoy.
Step 2: Take action
Once you've taken the time to understand your employees, it's time to take action. This follow-through is important, as it shows that you have taken your employees' interests and concerns to heart.
Try this simple exercise: Divide a blank piece of paper into four quadrants labeled fun, sharing, collaboration, and connection. For each heading, brainstorm a list of actions you can implement to improve your company culture in this area. For example, under "fun" you may have things like a Friday drawing for free passes for dinner, a movie, or some other treat.
When you take action, it's important to set yourself up for success. Rather than doing everything at once, try implementing a selection of ideas that you know you can do and do well. Highlight a few of the items from your brainstorming list that you'd like to implement immediately. The rest you can save on a prioritized wish list of things to do later.
Step 3: Involve
A company culture comes from all employees. When it's successful, it's something that you start and that your employees continue.
Ask your employees how they think they can contribute to the success of the business and its culture. Encouraging them to take a personal stake in the company can nurture a new and positive energy, Skube says. When this happens, your employees have gone beyond their day-to-day duties. They now feel responsible for the company's success.
Step 4: Collaborate
At this stage, your employees should be involved in your company culture. Now comes the time to grow, deepen, and further develop it. This is where collaboration really comes into play.
Give your employees the room they need to follow through with their own ideas. This doesn't mean allowing them to go off in all kinds of different directions. In your pivotal role as the leader, it is up to you to oversee and guide this creative force along the right path. Encourage them, but discuss concrete ways of putting ideas into action, and hold them to any agreed-upon action plan.
It's important the employees understand that the perks and benefits they enjoy come as a result of this work. Individuals who view them as an expectation can potentially affect the entire group attitude in a negative way. "Are people going to be held accountable for meeting their objectives and delivering their commitments? If I'm not held accountable, I may or may not do it," Skube says.
Step 5: Demand accountability
Company culture isn't something you start and then ignore. Like a well-tended garden, a strong culture is the result of creativity and care. Make accountability part of your culture, through strong communication and follow-up. Make it easy to communicate with tools like Yammer and Lync Online in Office 365.
You will know if your culture has been built effectively if your employees are not only trying out new ideas but meeting expectations and commitments regularly. Their interests and needs will change as your company grows. Take the time to re-evaluate these motivation factors if you find a change in performance.