Over the past few months, I've had a number of fascinating conversations with entrepreneurs who want to create cultures that matter. Without fail, the discussion takes a turn towards unique office perks--work spaces that are filled with ping pong tables, nap rooms, TVs, and kitchen kegs. Even with the best of intentions to create a fun workplace, these perks are not creating a culture. In fact, they might be working against it. Think about the concept of an organizational culture. Actually, it's not very different from a national culture, an ethnic culture, or a religious culture. They all have the same elements. All are defined by values, beliefs, traditions, celebrations, stories, legends, heroes, norms, and language. So, what does it take to craft the culture you want and to evolve that culture over time?

1. Articulate your purpose and vision. The first step is knowing your identity and building a language to communicate it to your team. Once your team understands who you are and what your purpose is, the next step is to make your work environment align with your values. For these values to be effective, any perks must directly reinforce what you, as a company, believe in. If your culture upholds creative inspiration through recreational activities, then ping pong it is! If not, then replace the table with something that better connects you to your greater purpose.

2. Hire people with both emotional and technical capabilities. Defining the culture you want for your business is the first step, but how do you enrich and grow that culture? Who you hire plays a critical part. When interviewing a candidate, keep in mind that the technical ability to actually do the job is only half of what you need, if that. If you want to propagate a particular culture in your company, looking for a candidate's emotional capacity to care about the job is essential. You can teach people skills, but you cannot teach them to care. Hiring for emotional skills is a key factor to ensuring that your culture is in the right hands, and as it evolves, will continue to stay true to its purpose.

3. Set clear expectations. As a leader, it is your responsibility to set clear expectations by naming them. New situations will continue to arise, and your job is to explain how you'd like your team to react. A clearly articulated purpose sets the stage for your expectations, and continuous reinforcement is what helps the rubber meet the road for your team. You can only hold your team accountable to those standards you have clearly articulated to them.

4. Provide continuous, gracious feedback. Continuous, gracious feedback is the best way to communicate that the standards you have set are important to your culture. It is imperative that employees understand, on a personal level, what they're doing right or wrong. Feedback eliminates the guesswork and puts the focus on finding opportunities to improve. As a leader, it is up to you to be on your employees' side by clearly communicating where they stand.

5. Lead with integrity. Whether intentionally or not, leaders set the tone for their organization's culture. When carefully crafted, organizational culture is a direct reflection of the core values and purpose as set forth by leadership. If, as a leader, you do not actively take charge of your organization's culture, employees will formulate their own norms, values and beliefs. When left unattended, these discrepancies can have disastrous consequences. What I tell entrepreneurs and leadership teams is that if they fail to define the culture, it will instead be defined by tolerated behaviors. Organizational culture has the power to activate creativity, innovation, excellence--or any number of positive performance outcomes--so long as the leaders clearly define and embody the cultural values they champion.

Published on: Sep 30, 2014