“If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will just take care of itself – Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com

Tony Hsieh knows a thing or two about business. He graduated from Harvard, sold his first business to Microsoft and started the internet powerhouse, Zappos all before age 40.

Most business owners and managers would likely agree with Tony – a good culture is critical to the success of a business. However, recognizing the importance of a good culture is very different from actually working on your company culture.

Most business leaders don’t work on their company’s culture because they don’t know where to start. It is much easier to work on tangible, easy to understand problems, but working on the company culture will help you eliminate future problems and position your company for growth.

Culture is Important, But Not Urgent

Unfortunately, for most of us, developing a good culture is one of those “important, but not urgent” activities that never gets works on.

Instead, we get lost in a sea of urgent activities like customer issues, hiring, firing, vendor problems, cash flow gaps and new business development opportunities. After all, these issues must be dealt with now or there will be no business, so the culture won’t matter.

Besides after we close these new deals, we will have plenty of money and time — then we will spend our days philosophizing about the perfect culture, but for now there is no time.

You Get a Culture No Matter What

Your company develops a culture, whether you actively influence it or not. The culture will grow based on the inputs it receives. If you are not actively steering the company toward the culture you want, then you will get a culture you don’t want.

Your company’s culture is like your waistline or credit card spending. When you don’t pay attention, it only goes in the wrong direction.

Think of your culture as your garden. You plant and nurture the plants you want and you weed out the plants you don’t want. As time goes on, you may need to prune back a good cultural trait that was growing too big or in the wrong direction. If you don’t work on your garden, it will grow in unpredictable, crazy and unproductive ways – the same is true of your company culture.

Tony Hsieh is Right

Tony suggests that if you get the culture right, the rest of the stuff will take care of itself. When you have the right culture, the customer issues, employee hassles, and vendor problems go away.

Your company’s culture must become a priority not for some fluffy social good or new age value. You should make your company culture a priority because it will help you grow your business. In my experience, companies that actively work on their culture also have happier owners, employees and customers.

So What is The Right Culture?

Every company will develop it’s own culture. The industry, founders, leaders, employees and a host of other issues will all impact your company’s culture.

There is no right answer, however some desirable cultural attributes are listed below:

  • Visible, inspiring leadership
  • Effective, positive management
  • I want to work there brand
  • Shared values
  • Collective vision / purpose
  • Individual motivation
  • Day to day communication
  • Easy, flexible workspace, inspiring surroundings
  • Great team dynamics
  • Empowered decision making

How Do I Develop the Right Culture for my Company?

Below are some things to consider when improving the culture of your company:

Top Down Leadership

Everybody in the company has the ability to impact the culture, but it is senior management’s responsibility to determine the culture the company should have. Culture improvement must be led by senior management.

Determine the Right Culture

Employee behavior is dictated by company culture. If you want to improve your company’s culture, start by observing employee behavior. Determine the behaviors you want to see less of and the behaviors you want to see more of. You will know your culture is improved when you see the right behaviors exhibited by your people.

Long Term Commitment

Getting and keeping the right culture at your company takes deliberate action over the long haul. There are no quick fixes or silver bullets when it comes to culture.

Get Outside Help

It may make sense to hire outside help when taking on culture improvement. A coach or consultant that is experienced in culture development may be a good investment because they will bring a proven process, diagnostic tools and a fresh perspective on your company culture. An outside expert will also be able to coach you and your employees through the process. As an executive coach, I have worked with dozens of companies on culture improvement. These engagements are not always easy, but the results are always worth it.

A great culture will not happen accidentally. If you want a great culture, you will need to make a conscious effort to create it.