Over twenty years now I've been coaching business owners on the value of building a systems driven company. But what about those situations that your staff finds themselves in for which there isn't a clear system to lay out how best to handle it?

This is where your company culture comes in. Your company culture is the hidden hand that shapes your team's behavior so that they effectively handle those situations that by their very nature are ambiguous or nuanced.

Of course, you could require that in these situations your team turns to their internal manager, but I think we can likely agree that this solution is less than ideal.

What we all want as business leaders is to give our team what they need to autonomously do great work and make smart business decisions, even in these ambiguous circumstances for which you've never explicitly told them how to handle them.

Your culture are the sum total of your values, beliefs, traditions, and accepted standards of behavior. It's the way your company views, prioritizes, and behaves to get things done.

Here is a simple 6 step process to intentionally lay the foundation for your company's culture.

Step One: Clarify your company's core values.

Your company's values are the filters through which you want your team to make any tough decision.

How do you want your team to treat a customer in an emotionally loaded moment?

How do you want your team to treat each other when they see things differently?

How do you want your team to make a decision about how to prioritize their likely over full to do lists?

What do you want the mood and feeling to be in your office?

When you list out your company's core values, consider adding in a statement that can be behaved. This gives your values a concrete quality that is easier for your team to internalize.

For example, with my business coaching company, Maui Mastermind, two of our company values are:

  • "We do what we say we'll do and hold other people accountable to the same standard." (Notice we say it this way versus just to say "integrity". It's hard to behave "integrity", but it is easy to expect to do what we say we'll do.)
  • "We eat our own cooking." (This is our way of clarifying to our team that we follow our own business coaching best practices. We create our own 1-page quarterly action plan every 90 days and do our weekly "Big Rock Reports" just like we coach our clients to.)

Again, notice how both these values we used short, simple statements to make our values clear behaviorally. This has proven to be an effective way to lay out your company values, and one which many of our business coaching clients have modeled.

Step Two: Create a written draft of what you want your company's culture to be.
Don't do this in one sitting. Take 30 minutes and start a draft of this. Sit with it for a week or two, then come back for a second take.

What behaviors would be the norm at your company?

How would someone be able to observe how your team has internalize your company values in their day-to-day job?

What would an outside observer notice about the feel of your company if they spent the day in your offices?

Step Three: Get a reality check -- How does your company currently line up on your vision of what you want your culture to be?

Imagine you were an outsider looking in, where would you notice things aligning or not aligning between the observed culture and your desired culture?

Ask your key staff for their observations on this. They will likely see things differently than you. Welcome their perspective and use their input to inform this process over time. And this is a process that unfolds over time, not just a "sit down one time" event.

Step Four: Revise your company culture that you wrote up to reflect what currently describes your organization, and what elements are aspirational, or a "work in progress."

This becomes your road map of the culture you want to build. In the words of Stephen Covey, "Begin with the end in mind."

Step Five: Apply gentle pressure, relentlessly to shape your culture.

Concretely do five things every week to reinforce your company culture.

This could include:

  • Send out a company-wide email retelling the story of the victory.
  • Highlight an example of a great team member behavior at a meeting.
  • Look for and share company-wide small occurrences in the company that symbolize deeper values you want the company to absorb.
  • Intentionally make the hard decision that shocks your team into learning how seriously you believe in your values.
  • Role model the behavior you want them to internalize - be consistent with it.

Step Six: Revisit and revise your written description of your company culture until you feel it reflects just what you want it to be.

It takes time to feel out what you want your culture to be. But the value of investing in creating the right company culture for your business is worth the investment of time and attention.

Remember, culture is the invisible hand that shapes behavior and tells people how to behave when no one is watching.