Have you ever had a job that sucked the energy right out of you? You know the feeling, like you're walking a long road to nowhere...every single day. It's safe to say most of us have been there. While there are many contributing factors, a huge, unmissable one is the culture at your company.
That being said, company cultures don't appear as vapor after a few meetings. Instead, they're molded and reinforced over time, often taking years to develop organically. The best cultures, it can be argued, never stop developing. So how can you as an entrepreneur create or improve a workplace culture if you barely have time to answer emails, nevermind dedicate hours to culture-building?
This is one of my favorite topics -- and one I struggled with for a long time. In the early days of running my business, the company culture was terrible. We had lots of toxicity, gossiping, complaining and turnover. I was aware of what was going on, but I had no idea how to make it better. Believe me, I tried everything: unlimited vacation days, team lunches, fun group activities -- trapezing, anyone? -- Thanksgiving potluck dinners, etc. The problem was that these events -- while fun -- didn't create a long-term cultural change.
So, what does? Is it related to payment? The company's momentum and funding? Maybe the leadership team's experience level? After tinkering with our company's culture over and over again, here are the three most important factors that I discovered.
The Health of the Business
Your business' health boils down to how it is doing financially and how much traction it has. Ever heard of product-market fit? It's a critical component of your business' health, particularly for early stage ventures. It will tell you if your company serves a real need in the market that will allow it to grow over time.
Usually you need to keep your eyes on another metric besides product-market fit. Most of the time this tends to be revenue, but not always. Whatever your north star metric is, your team needs to be aligned on it. If key team members disagree or are confused about this second metric, it will make them frustrated, unhappy and less productive. Yes, culture, is about more than just metrics. But you cannot forget that your company's vision and goals are directly tied to its culture. Make sure everyone is aligned and optimistic about your company's strategy.
Every voice needs to matter inside a company, from the C-Suite to entry-level employees. This is a critical component of corporate culture that's often overlooked because managers and executives can become protective of their ideas and rigid with communication structures.
Not only is open communication and robust employee engagement good for your business, it's also immensely beneficial to the development of your culture. Employees need to feel that they can speak up, have their voices heard and openly collaborate with senior leadership. Everyday, they need to know they can affect change and not just complete busywork.
In addition to giving employees intellectual ownership, you should also consider giving them financial ownership, which can be done through stock options. A winning culture is one that values ideas everyday and rewards participation and commitment year over year.
Culture is absolutely connected to leadership and business health. In very few situations are employees of a floundering, visionless company happy. But they're also often discontent when they're part of successful companies that block communication and stymie collaboration with upper management.
It doesn't matter how many successes you've enjoyed before. If you want to be a lodestar of culture nowadays, you need to possess founder-market fit. What does that mean? It means you need to be a leader who:
- Is uniquely motivated to solve the specific problem your company is addressing
- Has superlative experience in your industry and unmatched mastery of your product
- Possess game-changing insights and ideas that will beat out your competition.
So save yourself the time you might spend planning a happy hour or a Christmas bonus. Sure, employees will enjoy them for a moment, but they won't stimulate long-term satisfaction. Your time is better spent aligning your employees around shared goals and building a collaborative workflow.