How is your company culture? How would your team or even your customers describe it? Was it built with intention and purpose or was it something that just manifested over time?

Today, culture is vitally important to business. It's the lifeblood and thus something that can't be overlooked. And it goes beyond a mission statement and even the foosball tables and free lunches -great perks, but not the foundations of a strong culture.

Culture is what attracts and retains talent, as well as customers. After all, we want to do business with companies we can get behind and even feel a part of on some level.

How do you build a strong culture? When should you develop it? And more importantly, what is it if it's not the mission and vision statements?

Culture is your company's genetic code

Company culture is the fabric of your company. It's preexisting whether you realize it or not and it exists among teams of two to 20,000. It is shaped by vision, values, purpose, and beliefs - and it starts at the top, with the leadership.

Culture is something that permeates through the entire brand, impacting employees, customers, vendors and partners. When purposefully developed, it has the power to build a team of motivated, fully vested and collaborative employees, and passionate, loyal customers. On the flip side, when culture isn't built upon a foundation of core values and vision, the environment can become competitive, misaligned, disconnected, and disengaged.

Even if you're culture is not quite where you want it, it's not too late to realign. To get it back on track, revisit your company's vision and purpose.

Building the foundation for culture

How do you build a strong culture? To borrow from Simon Sinek, start with why.

Why do you do what you do? Where do you want your company to be?

Answering these questions forms the basis of your organization's vision and purpose. Vision is will clearly define where you're headed and purpose is the why behind your company's existence.

Together these will become your organization's North Star, will be deeply motivating, and will guide decisions such as vendors you work with, employees you hire and customer segments you serve. They also form the foundation of your core values.

Define your core values

Core values are the bedrock of the organization. They are a set of fundamental beliefs that guide major decisions, serve as a behavioral compass and shape the company's culture.

While there really isn't a right or wrong way to go about defining your core values, you generally want to keep them fairly simple and straightforward, sticking to four to 10 statements of no more than six words. For example, Warby Parker has a list of 10 company ideals they keep posted in the office kitchen.

At Warby Parker, culture is king. They wanted to create a culture of fun, teamwork and innovation. As such, every week each employee is asked to share their happiness rating on a scale from one to 10, provide an innovation idea (they view it as everyone's responsibility), and every quarter they have a surprise fun outing.

Reinforcing your brand's culture

There are numerous ways to strengthen the culture within your organization, such as through making core values a part of your daily routine, and employee and customer recognition programs.

To integrate it into the daily routine, some companies make core values into posters and put them up around the office, or start off every team meeting with a quick core values review. Keep in mind, core values take time to instill, and the more reminders -visual, audible, or otherwise - the easier it is to get your team bought in.

With employee recognition, consider going beyond rewards for task-related achievements. Use this as an opportunity to reinforce your core values and purpose.

Truly meaningful values are ones that you can tell real stories about. When employees demonstrate core values, publicly recognize them for it and share the story of how they did it by. This will demonstrate your company's commitment to your core values, give the employee kudos when deserved, and motivate the team to look for additional opportunities to fulfill them.

Similarly, look for ways to recognize your customers. This could be as simple as handwritten thank you cards, a personalized video from your team, or mention on your blog or social media. Whichever path you choose, think about how it will reinforce your brand's culture.

Culture will be a work in progress. It requires active management and implementation, and it's completely up to the leadership to set it, reinforce it and make decisions based on it.

Published on: Dec 22, 2016