Would you apply for a job at your business? Think about it for a moment. With where you are in your life—with your unique talents and dreams—is it the kind of place that would support you in getting closer to the life you want? Do you think you have any employees who aren’t evaluating their jobs, right this very minute, on that criteria?
It’s one of my favorite questions to ask business owners when I do keynotes and workshops. Not because it guarantees seat squirming and awkward laughter, though it certainly does that, but because it cuts through all the complaining about “not being able to find good people.” If you wouldn’t want to work for your business, why should anyone else?
Here’s the irony. It’s not a problem that your company culture sucks. The problem is only in denying it, because then you look like the only one who doesn’t know. I promise you, if you gathered your staff together this afternoon and said, “Hey everyone. I know it’s not great working here. I’m really sorry that it’s that way, and I’m not sure how to change it right now, but I want you to know I’m committed to doing that,” you would see tears of joy and relief. Because you just took the first step to becoming a real leader, to truly owning your business.
It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take a few years to get fully there—it took us three to get where we are today (after 35 years of doing it the old way). But there are some simple things you can do to start.
Culture is context, not content. It’s not what you sell, but the way and the why. It’s the only real differentiator you have.
Here are five tools we use. They’re how we keep the pulse of our culture, from important announcements down to the most micro-micro tasks on our projects. It’s a challenge, but we found ways to use technology to bring us closer. Our approach may not work for your specific business, but there are some general principles that can help you design one that does.
Be consistent with the big stuff: We have two all staff meetings per week. We have our Tuesday 20—a light-hearted, twenty minute meeting before lunch. It’s for major announcements from our senior team, with time for comments and questions. We also have our Thursday 360. It’s a place for anyone in the company to put things on the agenda they want to talk about—with the emphasis on things that impact other departments. These meetings make sure there aren’t any gaps between the different parts of our team.
If at all possible, be one team: We have a handful of projects going at any one time, but we tackle them as one team. Having a clean and adaptable task management system is critical. We’ve had great success with Asana. It allows us to collaborate on a wide range of tasks, to cut way down on email, and gives our management team visibility into the micro-communication that happens throughout the organization.
Collaboration gives permission: I wrote this blog in Google Docs. Before publishing, it was shared with and influenced by three different people who offered high-level feedback, or said a specific idea was unclear or could be said differently. And, over the years, what I’ve seen is how important it is for everyone to see that the people in charge aren’t perfect. I make mistakes. I forget to take my own advice. The only difference is that I listen when someone points it out.
The conversation takes many forms: We’re a service business, so our team is online all of the time. We’re always talking, which may not be the case for your business. But however much it is, take advantage of the different tools out there. A lot of what we do is on Google Hangouts. But good old GoToMeeting is still a staple, and Skype is great for international communication. And someday, maybe Jony Ive will take it on as a pet project and we’ll get video conferencing that doesn’t feels like this so much of the time.
Make a place for their ideas: We have a lot of very different personalities in our business. Whether they’re employees or contractors, on-site or remote, they come across things that are interesting to them. They’re each, in their own way, passionate about what we do. We’ve found a tool called Honey to make a space for people to share what sparks their imagination. It’s not about fake-personal—it’s not about posting cute cat videos or your morning workout results—but a place for people to share things that impact them. It’s a small way for people to bring more of who they are into their workday.
Creating a vibrant company culture won’t happen overnight. If you really want it, it won’t bother you to know that it’s going to take you a few years to get there. Because like all things that are worth doing, it happens from the inside-out. But there are great tools out there, ways to create a structure for everyone to express themselves. You’ll start having a new kind of conversation about your brand—not between you and your customers, but in all the small moments as you and your team move through the day. Your customers are listening.