Building Corporate Culture
The core of your business success relies heavily on the architecture of the culture you establish.
The workplace environment—its energy and dynamics—comprises the culture of a business. Company culture is an influential and fluid entity that represents who you are as a team, what you stand for, how you conduct yourselves and how you treat your clients. It will ultimately impact work quality, job satisfaction and enjoyment, and employee retention; it will also help define your brand in the customer’s eyes. While company culture is important to any business, in a service industry that exists to help people achieve their health, fitness and sporting goals, a positive and constructive culture is very influential. Indeed, without a compass for culture, a business really has no soul and, hence, little chance of survival.
This is not New Age fluff. It is about getting the most out of your business and enjoying the process. Corporate culture impacts the bottom line. That might have been enough for past generations of business owners. Today, many leaders and business operators want more than fiscal success; they also want to make a positive impact on clients in a way that mirrors their own personalities and ethics.
At Twist Conditioning Inc., we work within a fast-paced environment of very high expectations and aggressive deadlines, but also one that is fun and relaxed. This combination is founded on mutual respect and camaraderie among staff; it relies on dynamics similar to those found on close-knit, winning sport teams. But this culture distills to much more than simple group cohesion.
From a business perspective, it was important for us to secure 100% buy-in from employees to a process that not only accepts but thrives on new challenges and on efforts to raise each individual’s ability levels. This required creating a positive, supportive environment and enjoyable interpersonal dynamics. It placed a priority on developing people and building a constructive corporate culture—a philosophy I focused on before I improved the business infrastructure and before I focused on improving sales systems. The culture became our foundation. It established and now defines who we are and guides how we operate. In full circle, our culture not only provides us with high-caliber results, an excellent working environment and first-class co-workers; it also gives each employee strong personal connectivity to the company.
To begin the process of methodically and purposefully redefining and building your corporate culture, specify your values and determine what you want your environment to be like: How will it “feel” to exist within it? Consider how you want to treat clients and how you envision staff interacting with each other. Assess your team as well as yourself. Indeed, a positive corporate culture is reliant on a mix of the leader, the staff’s group dynamics and the environment it is manifested within.
First, determine what your principles and values are, and whether these will be adhered to in the business environment. These factors are vital, as they will define how you operate, how you conduct yourself, the choices you make, who you do business with, what clients you accept, and how you deliver your obligation to clients and business associates. Your principles and values go a long way in defining your corporate culture; they must not be compromised if you want your team to be consistent and to help the culture take on a life of its own beyond the primary leader. Often, ethical decisions are the test of your corporate culture. If you can surmount such challenges by using the culture you’ve established as a litmus test, you will bolster your company to greater long-term benefit rather than sacrifice your ethics to earn money today.
At Twist Conditioning, we framed a vision statement that defines who we are, what we do and how we intend to do it. As such, our vision statement reflects our principles and values, and ultimately every project we are involved in must adhere to it. At a corporate retreat on Vancouver Island, set amid rainforest and ocean, we chipped away at the arduous task of defining what we do and how we do it. The result was a crystal-clear vision statement for our team: “A progressive team, driven to redefine sport conditioning through knowledge, innovation and experience. Building champion athletes and winners in life with passion and integrity.” For more information, see “Building Your Mission Statement,” on page 3.
A leader is not an administrator, a manager or a person with a title that defines how others must follow instructions. A leader is not the loudest person or the one who demands attention. A true leader is someone whose vision and energy attract others to his cause; one whose natural attributes inspire commitment from others; one who stimulates motivation through intrinsic drivers. A true leader thinks in terms of what is best for the company, and knows how to purposefully foster each team member’s development so every individual flourishes and can add value to the group.
This style of leadership helps nurture a constructive corporate culture and makes it contagious. A true leader can achieve 100% buy-in from individuals, create enthusiasm for the process and engender value from the experience for those who join the journey. A true leader helps people get to where they want to go while they drive the common goal. For corporate culture to flourish, staff must see their co-workers as a team and the team as a vehicle for everyone’s individual success. For this model to succeed, the principal leader must produce an environment to which staff feel personally connected. Subleaders will observe, listen, learn and replicate this style to the team at large.
The company leader and the inner circle of long-term managers and employees set the tone for growing a group of staff who may not have attended every methodical step of the corporate culture building process. There are also three interrelated variables that, when present and well-managed, can give more life to a constructive culture. When clear goals, support resources and accurate and timely feedback are present, the opportunity to work with autonomy and truly put one’s stamp on a project can help anchor people to a business culture. My staff love to sink their teeth into projects and “own” them. Whether a project is a raging success or not, each person’s contribution, willingness to perform and effort must be acknowledged and valued.
Accountability drives the self-assessment needed to upgrade staff skills and produce best efforts. Absolute honesty from the principal leader about successes—but more important, about failures—is essential if others are to learn the value of accountability. I have stood in front of my team at meetings and admitted failures, with humility, while personally taking responsibility but also demonstrating eagerness to learn from each experience.
Even if there were extenuating circumstances or a third party who caused problems in the process, I take full responsibility and define what I could have done to make things work better and to produce an outcome more in line with our goals and expectations. Finally, I may also identify others on the team who could get more involved to input strengths I may not have. It’s essential to be human to create an environment in which humans feel comfortable.
This approach transcends the leader and forces team members to look within and focus on what they bring to the table. When staff get into the “no excuses” habit, they are in a cycle of learning and growing. As a leader, accept or share responsibility for any company failures, and acknowledge team members for any successes. This shows that you are in it together, strengthens the team-based culture and encourages staff to tackle more responsibilities, which will help them learn and grow. It’s a cyclical learning process that becomes integral to maintaining and growing a healthy corporate culture.
I cannot overstate the importance of pruning your existing tree and hiring great people. A corporate culture can flourish only with the right mix of employees. The team you build should be equally responsible for creating and maintaining the desired culture. In our industry I look for coaching and training abilities, along with some business acumen and administrative skills that extend beyond the training session. Skills are highly teachable. But one’s character and personality are not as efficiently moderated. The bottom-line premise we follow is: if people give energy, they are in; if they suck energy, they are out. It is that simple.
Most often, the very top performers and most productive people have a quiet confidence; they are highly motivated but humble and focused on the team goals. They know how to affix their personal upside to the team’s goals.
Conversely, poor performers are often high maintenance. At one point, my least productive staff member also caused many problems with projects, clients and co-workers; he was egotistical and ruffled everyone’s feathers. As a less mature business manager, I took it upon myself to give this person dozens of second chances, hoping I could help him with behavior modification, productivity and professionalism.
In retrospect, I realize my willingness to delay firing and to focus my time and resources on mentoring the problem employee caused our corporate culture to deteriorate. Once he was gone, all of us were freed of the negative energy. As a result, the rest of the team received more of my time. I was finally able to recognize and reward our top performers rather than devote my energy to “helping” the problem employee. As a result, the team flourished and enjoyed the environment—our culture—much more. They were waiting for me to define what was acceptable behavior and what was not.
To handle Twist Conditioning’s current growth and the depth of projects we are tackling, we could use industry veterans who possess greater business acumen. However, we have a solid team and will learn and grow together, because I do not believe any depth of business know-how can replace solid people who intimately understand the corporate culture and are able to demonstrate it to clients, customers and guests of the company.
We view positive personal attributes, often labeled as “intangibles,” as core competencies that each individual must have to function well in our culture. These include a strong work ethic, conscientiousness, empathy, altruism, open-mindedness and a positive mental attitude. Ideally, staff should have knowledge, experience and personality traits that bring value to your process. They need to be passionate about the industry, passionate about their personal-growth opportunities and certainly passionate about what the team is already pursuing and the impact it aspires to make. Passionate people can be truly attracted to such a culture, feed off of it, find a home in it and help launch it to another level.
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Here are some fundamental steps we took to craft a mission statement that has stood the test of time and served us well at Twist Conditioning. Tailor this process to fit your leadership style and develop a mission that will guide the way you do business.
1. Select a Location Where Everyone on Your Team Can Focus Undisturbed. Shaping a mission statement is not an activity to undertake in your everyday office location. You and your team need to be free of all distractions and deadlines. We took our team to Vancouver Island and settled in a massive log cabin with a view of the Pacific Ocean. Mission statement conversations were completed in the grand room of the cabin, but supportive conversations related to who we were and where we were going took place throughout the weekend. Such discussions included the retreat’s launch presentation at the beach, and on the Juan de Fuca Trail in a rainforest setting.
2. Close Your Business to Accomplish This Important Task. We went over a weekend but also shut down our entire operation for 3 week days. If this seems extreme to you, I would suggest considering that you may currently be stuck working in your day-to-day business, which will not grow optimally unless you are working on your business to improve toward long-term, successful growth. Our model is not just about profitable growth; it’s also about achieving return on investment and meeting key performance indicators with a certain style.
3. Avoid Jumping Into the Mission Statement Exercise Straightaway. Lead Up to It. We started by reviewing our business accomplishments, challenges and vision for where we wanted to go. From there we had structured cohesion and trust exercises. Next, we had informal cohesion—a social theme with food and beverages. I don’t like artificial team-building activities in which you need all 10 people to succeed at a physical task. I prefer disclosure and trust activities.
4. Now That Your Team Is Ready, Piece Together a Mission Statement. At this stage we needed to get buy-in from our team that went beyond a discussion led by me. Julie Rogers, our vice president of products and finance, introduced the mission statement development process. She explained the purpose and importance of the task at hand. We then secured input from everyone on the team, ensuring that there was less initial input from our inner management circle in order to get other staff involved in the process. We defined ourselves: “who we are; what we do; and how we do it.” We explored how we would structure these thoughts into a single, cohesive statement.
5. Pay Attention to Process Details. For each of the three main areas we wanted to include in the statement, we
- brainstormed ideas, compiling a master list for each (who we are; what we do; how we do it);
- deleted duplications;
- prioritized or created hierarchy by making hard choices (what to keep, what to eliminate);
- wrote a longer paragraph containing definitions; and
- discussed and debated which descriptors best fit the who, what and how we were attempting to define.
Another tip: Keep the rough lists you construct, so you can review them later. Many items you brainstorm will represent attributes, values and working methodologies that illustrate your complete package. These can be of great value in other facets of your business culture.
6. Getting It Right. We attacked this process with focus; and when it hit a wall, we moved on to other business and social activities, ultimately returning to the mission statement. Over a 5-day retreat we focused on this in three sessions before nailing it. Despite the significant time commitment, at the end of the process we were very satisfied. We were proud of our mission statement and excited about it; we knew it anchored us to our corporate culture.
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