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COMPANY CULTURE

How to Create a Strong Company Culture

Two simple ideas can help strengthen the cohesiveness of your organization.

No matter how large your business grows, it's your job to create a strong, cohesive company culture. And it's your responsibility to connect your team to that culture.

I worked at a major investment bank under two antithetical CEOs. The first was a down-to-earth, slightly geeky guy, known for his loud (sometimes slightly crude) humor and his daily breakfast of bagels and lox. He was very hardworking and totally relatable, and the down-to-earth company culture was felt from the executive suite and upper management throughout the entire firm. It attracted similarly grounded, hardworking people to the firm. It fostered a positive impression that helped people feel good about their jobs. At every level, people had the sense that though they were working long, hard hours, they were doing so alongside a leader who got it, who got them, and who did the same. His successor could not have been a more drastic opposite: extremely wealthy, status driven, and completely self-focused. The new CEO took payouts to the tune of $25 million while employees with graduate degrees made $40,000. Instead of being known for a bagels-and-lox breakfast, he was known for a multimillion-dollar art collection that he claimed connected him to the common man. He was seen as massively out of touch. Longtime employees left, and the culture completely shifted from one of academic humiltiy to one that was more brash, bold, and boastful.  

To keep employees happy and dedicated to the company, you have to actively think about what image you are presenting. Here are two things you need to do to keep your company culture strong:

Make culture part of your review process.

You can institute policies that help the culture you want to achieve. At LexION Capital, all employees help keep the culture as part of a 360-degree feedback loop. They are welcome and encouraged to submit anonymous feedback on any issue, at any time. Not only does this help us access ideas and solutions from all levels, but it creates an input funnel that helps our values-based culture thrive via a self-correcting system. By including mechanisms for anonymous feedback, we hope to weed out and deter a "jerk factor."

Our company culture rests on something as simple and important as being nice and having fun with what we do. A feedback loop helps keep that tone consistent and root out any potential wrinkles early, before they become more pervasive problems.

Tell every employee from sales to admin that he or she is responsible for promoting company culture.

Your sales team members are some of your most active cultural catalysts to the outward world. As CEO, you need to be managing them and working with them closely. This is one thing that can't be delegated. But they aren't the only ones who are counting on you as the culture keeper. From admins to analysts to engineers, each member of your team is a culture catalyst, too, in a less direct way. All employees need to feel connected to the larger mission of the company, and you are a vital influence in creating that connection.

One way I create a culture connection with every employee is the practice of catIONs, a companywide message on Monday mornings that commends great performance, highlights outstanding entrepreneurs in the community, and discusses how we can all draw inspiration from these examples.

My goal with the weekly catION is not only to give the team a burst of inspiration and positivity as we dive into each busy week but also to infuse a sense of community. Given that some of our team members work remotely part time or full time, it is especially important to me that everyone has both a clear sense of our mission and also a sense of belonging.

When an employee feels that his or her work is directly connected to a larger mission, he or she is more engaged and more effective. When your team feels connected to the culture as a whole, that sense of shared purpose fosters more productive collaboration, more creative innovation, and greater employee morale. In short: a better, sharper, healthier business.

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Last updated: Jun 19, 2014

ELLE KAPLAN | Columnist | CEO, Lexion Capital Management

A finance expert and self-made entrepreneur, Elle Kaplan is the CEO and founding partner of Lexion Capital Management, the only 100 percent woman-owned asset management firm in the U.S.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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