Most business owners like to think the culture they have created feels like a family. While that means different things to everyone, having everyone feel a personal connection to the company, take pride in what they do, and help each other succeed is the foundation.
Sure, creating a family atmosphere starts at the top, but you have to look under the surface to see if it comes to life. How can you tell? Your people being champions of the company culture, proactively coming up with ideas to make it a better place to work and choosing to hang out together on the weekends are all signs that there is a tighter connection than a day’s work and a paycheck.
Maybe most important: Never forget that your company is their company, too. If you don’t think of it as their company--well then you should just give up on the idea of having a family-oriented company culture in the first place.
There are a few simple things that I have found go a long way toward creating an environment that is both positive and professional:
Be real. All too often business leaders feel they need to project an image to those who work for them that doesn’t necessarily reflect who they really are and actually masks their true personality. It’s ok to let your people beyond the veneer of leadership. I am proud to make a fool of myself in small ways every day and feel that the ability to laugh at myself makes me far more approachable. My teams may think I am a little strange at times, but I think they know that I am the person they see every day.
Be empathetic. Remember what it was like when you were the person sitting at that cubicle wondering how you were going to get through those days filled with ungrateful customers, unreasonable expectations and a limited understanding of how to do what’s being asked of you? That’s how your teams feel most days. They aren’t looking for you to tell them how to solve their problems--ok sometimes they are--but mostly they want to believe you can relate to their world and can help THEM solve things. Think through problems with them, ask questions rather than always supplying answers and remember: Remember the worst boss you ever had. Then think about the best. What were the major differences in how they communicated?
Be humble. Nothing’s wrong with a healthy ego. It is almost impossible to lead a large group of people without the ability to stand in front of them and make them feel you know what you are doing at the times when you are not even sure you do. But there is a huge line between ego-confidence and ego-arrogance. You’re the boss, they already get that and don’t need to be reminded of how awesome you are. I believe that I am at my absolute best when everyone around me succeeds and my role is that of coach and advisor. You should be happier to get a note from a client about how great someone on your team performed that a direct thanks for something you did.
Be direct. Most people know when they’re struggling. Often they are trying desperately to figure out how to turn things around but are terrified to speak up beause they don’t know if you know how much they’re struggling. Meanwhile, it is likely that your own frustration is resulting in harsh heat-of-the-moment criticism rather than constructive advice. Wait until things calm down a bit and ask the person to meet over a cup of coffee. Tell them you know they are struggling, and that you are invested in their success. Talk to them about what’s not working and be specific about things they can do to improve, then help coach them on those items rather than getting angry. In most cases you’ll find the person turns it around. Those who can’t or won’t often take this as a signal that they should find another job. Either way things get better for you, them and all of the people around who were just as frustrated with the situation but simply worked around the person the whole time.
Be transparent. The people who work for you have made a decision to place part of their lives in your hands and don’t like to live in a black hole. It has amazed me at times that as tight knit as we are often people in the office don’t know what is going on across the business. We’ve had major pitches going on and half the office doesn’t even know we are pitching. The answer: communicate, communicate and communicate some more. It’s your job to make sure people know what’s happening--that means the good, the bad and the ugly. What you tell them will NEVER be worse than what they will be talking about behind your back if you say nothing.