As a company founder, one of your most significant opportunities – and responsibilities – is that you get to define the corporate culture. Once the culture is set, it’s difficult to change – so the challenge is to get it right the first time. You can learn a lot from companies like Apple and Netflix, both widely respected for their exemplary culture.
In his book Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit, author Jim Stengel explores a ten-year study of the fifty best businesses in the world and concludes that those with a culture based on improving people’s lives had triple the growth rate of their competitors.
Based on this study, we have summarized ten principles for building a rock-solid corporate culture. Implement them early, and you’ll significantly enhance your firm’s growth potential:
- Be clear about what you stand for. The values and priorities you exemplify set the culture. People follow what you do, not what you say. Reinforce your beliefs regularly with your team, customers, and suppliers.
- Write down your core principles. Lay down your commandments. Set them in stone and put them somewhere the world can see.
- Assemble the right team. Interview carefully and ask probing questions to see if the candidate’s value system aligns with yours. You won’t always get it right, so resolve hiring mistakes quickly before they corrode your corporate culture.
- Avoid silos. “Traditional” roles like sales, marketing, and product management often lead to mediocrity. Everybody on the team has SOME responsibility in these areas, especially in the age of social media.
- Set high standards. You broadcast your standards every time you accept or reject recommendations from your team. If you set high standards, your team will step up to the challenge. Your customers will notice and appreciate it.
- Champion innovation in all areas. Create an environment that fosters and rewards innovation in all areas. This includes business models, marketing tactics, customer service, operating procedures, and, of course, product innovation itself.
- Recognize and reward exemplary values. Hold one or two annual firm-wide events and recognize those who best exemplify the corporate culture. Invite your customers and investors, and make it fun.
- Train continuously. Every interaction is an opportunity to teach and to learn. Training is coaching, not criticizing. Continuous teaching is a hallmark of great companies and their leaders.
- Live your legacy. Envision the legacy you want to leave. What kind of company do you want to create? Get your team to share that vision so all decisions and actions move the company closer to that ideal.
- Think and act like a winner. Customers want to associate with winners. Whatever your competitive strengths are, focus on maintaining your advantage in those areas.
You don’t need to start a cult to achieve an exceptional corporate culture, but it does require a disdain for conventional wisdom and the status quo. Build your corporate culture around pursuing ideals; growth and profit will follow.