You don’t become successful and then institute a great culture – the culture has to come first.

    Your business culture is at the core of what you do and how you operate. It sets attitudes and expectations. Managed correctly, it determines your direction and drives your performance.

    What is culture? I’ve heard it defined in two ways:

    • The way we do things around here; or
    • What happens when you’re not around.

    How would you describe your business culture? Is it professional, fun, creative or serious? Is it client focused or team focused?

    Many years ago I heard a business consultant talk about identifying your keyword; the one word that sums up your business at its core.

    For example, one firm settled on the word ‘friendly’. Once they realised this was their keyword, and the central tenet of who they were as a company, they noticed the dark painted walls in their office were not really giving off the friendly vibe, so they repainted. Clearly it also has major implications for any staff they choose to hire, or clients they take on. Grumpy people need not apply.

    One aspect of knowing, establishing and reinforcing your culture is the ability to be authentic and consistent in everything you do. Clearly this has a business benefit as well.

    I ask every firm that I work with to identify their five core values. In fact, it’s the first task you should do when creating a business plan. This is because these core values become the bedrock of your business culture and influence everything you do.

    Business decisions become easier

    When you know your core values, you can make all of your business decisions in relation to those values. Once you've done this exercise and communicated your values to the rest of the team, they’ll often quote them back to you in a difficult situation.

    For example, if one of your core values is ‘commerciality’, your team might well bring to your attention something that perhaps isn't on your radar, such as the low-paid or unpaid work you do for some clients.

    Culture helps with recruitment

    This is a fundamental principle that is vital to understand: if your team don’t share and buy into your core values they are not going to fit within your business.

    As a rule, team members that really fit well will tick at least three out of five of your values, and often it’s even higher.

    You’ll see the difference immediately. The team members that fit will share your values. If they don’t fit, it won’t work; period. They’ll have to go.

    Understanding your core values, and the culture they create, means in future you can recruit people with a much more conscious focus on the values they hold. This will improve your recruitment and retention out of sight.

    Culture means better clients

    You can apply the same test to your problem clients. You'll often find that the cause of tension between you and a challenging client is a different set of values.

    This is important, because it allows you to let them go nicely, explaining all that is going on here is a different world view. No big deal. No one is right or wrong, but this incompatibility is unlikely to help you work well together. Accept it, take action and move on. You won’t believe the improvement to your quality of life as a result.

    Culture helps maintain standards

    Once you have a team around you that share and buy into your values and culture, it becomes a self-selection mechanism for all future team members. If for some reason a new hire comes on board (after your best recruitment efforts) and they don’t fit your culture, they won’t last five minutes. The existing culture will weed them out very quickly.

    When I was an adviser back in Australia, I was fortunate to work with a senior executive at News Corporation. He explained to me new team members at News Corp stayed for less than two years or they stayed forever. That’s a powerful business culture and self-selection mechanism.

    On the positive side, if your existing team refers friends or former colleagues for interview, it’s highly likely they will also share your values. Word of mouth recruitment is a definite plus.

    Culture precedes positive results

    You already have a culture in your business. It exists, even if you haven’t defined it yet.

    The important thing is identifying what you have as a culture, and what you would like your culture to be in an ideal world (and these two versions might already be close). This is the best way to take your core values and turn them into a positive, business-enhancing trait.

    Tell them, tell them and tell them again

    Businesses that want to get more conscious about culture spend time communicating it regularly to everyone within the firm. One way of doing this is via a quarterly 'state of the nation' briefing to the team. While this might update everyone on how the business is performing, it can also be used to tell stories about the core values within the business, and where the owners and managers have noticed them being exhibited.

    Storytelling is the best way to communicate how your values fit into the day-to-day work that everyone is engaged in.

    So what happens in firms that haven’t defined their culture? They drift and don’t always know why. Without the clarity of knowing who you are and what you stand for, it can be difficult to make decisions when it comes to your business direction, staff and clients.

    Create a business culture by design. Know your core values and live by them. Culture shouldn’t get tacked on as an afterthought, it should be the core of who you are as a business.

    Champions behave like champions before they become successful – they have a winning standard of performance. You should too.

    “A culture is strong when people work with each other for each other. A culture is weak when people work against each other for themselves.” Simon Sinek

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