Companies and yogurt have at least one thing in common: they both need culture to survive. A company without culture is merely a group of disconnected individuals working toward a vague goal. A yogurt without culture is just milk.

This article will be about company culture (you can find my in-depth article about yogurt culture in the next edition of Dairy Weekly magazine).

There are two ways of developing a strong corporate culture:

  • Direct-Set, which is a culture that is deliberately planned and implemented using a blueprint for the various elements (listed below) that make up a company's work life; and
  • Heirloom, which is a more naturally occurring culture that develops over time through the practices handed down from generation to generation within the company.

Corporate culture is the cumulative sum of all values, attitudes, traditions, principles and systems within a company, plus the meaning employees attach to being part of that organization.

Creating a corporate culture from scratch involves every element at a company's disposal. Here are the main tools you can utilize to shape your corporate culture.

Hires

A successful company is diverse in skill set, experiences and personality. But, if you favor a certain trait in your employees that you believe will contribute to your vision of your corporate culture, start looking for that trait right from your first hire and look for it via the questions you pose during your interviews.

Interior Design

Your office space says a lot about the kind of corporate culture you want. The colors, the amount of open space, the design, the layout, it all speaks to what type of environment you are trying to create. A lot of open common areas will facilitate employee collaboration while cubicles promote individualism. Plan your office carefully.

Performance Reviews

What you deem important during your performance review and how you reflect that in the review report demonstrates your organizational priorities to your team members. Do you value customer service above all else? Then that better be at the top of the report (literally, above all else).

Pay

You can shape and influence what your team members focus on by how your company determines the monetary compensation structure in your company. Raises, promotions, bonus structures etc. should be aligned with the cultural elements you want to foster.

Rituals

How you celebrate work anniversaries, birthdays, personal and corporate successes all contribute to your corporate culture. Whether it's five minute team meditations in the morning or ringing a bell after a big sale, rituals bring people together because they feel like they are a part of something exclusive.

Communication

How and how often you share news, give updates or solicit feedback is critical. There is a major difference between a one-page company newsletter emailed once per month and holding regular town hall style meetings in the office every week. The genuineness of the communication and the extent of the information shared all show your team members what kind of a company you are.

Dismissals and Promotions

Who you fire, who you promote and how quickly you perform these tasks impacts company culture immensely. Not tolerating dishonesty or bullying--even from the stars of your company--speaks volumes, as does promoting by merit rather than seniority.

Business Processes

The amount of paperwork, how your company meetings are structured, the design of your hierarchy and the way the various departments interact with each other are all critical. As your company grows, your business processes will become more important in not only shaping what type of company you are, but in determining how flexible or fragile your company culture will be. You should have a solid company structure in place before you hit 25 employees.

Social, Community, Team Building Activities

These might not apply to every company, but if your company culture involves making a positive social impact, being environmentally conscious, being community focused and team oriented, then you need to have activities in place to support that.

You and Your Leadership

You lead by example. Therefore, what you do is always more important than what you say. It is not one moment, one presentation or one crisis that defines you, but how you carry yourself as a leader every day. So, use yourself as the number one tool of your corporate culture creation and transformation. If you want to make a change in corporate culture, you have to start by changing your own behavior. If your company has more than one recognized leader--like multiple co-founders--you all need to have a unified message and not send contradictory messages.

The process of developing corporate culture is a gradual one. The process of developing corporate culture is a gradual one. Like a slowly growing retirement fund, if you keep adding small elements to it, you'll eventually end up with what you need.

Published on: Feb 21, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.