For many like Scott Vollero, the mere mention of “corporate culture” elicits an eye-roll. It’s hard to imagine a more banal workplace cliché, to be sure.
But “corporate culture” — and, really, we don’t need to put something so self-evident in quotes — is a tangible attribute that can absolutely make or break a emergent company. During the early stages of growth, when it’s critical to keep the funding tap turned on and ease key employees into their roles, few things are worse than the unchecked growth of a cancerous corporate culture that infects progressively more mission-critical areas of the organization.
Putting a healthy corporate culture in place from the get-go, then, is nothing short of an essential investment in the future of your young company. Here’s how to do it the right way.
Don’t Tolerate Illegal Activity
This bit of advice should be obvious, but you’d be shocked how often it’s ignored. If you discover evidence of potentially illegal activity, or activity that could be construed as intentional sabotage, investigate quickly, terminate those involved, and go to the authorities if there’s any chance you could be held liable.
Lead By Example
As your company’s founder, you’re its employee number one. Actually, you’re employee zero — the first person you hire is number one. When you’re at the office or plant, you’re the face of the company. Everything you do is fair game for scrutiny, so make you’re not doing anything you wouldn’t want your employees to do. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when they follow your lead.
Engage in Team-Building
At the end of the workday, your employees go home and do whatever they do. But while they’re at work, they need to be in sync. That’s the whole point of a healthy corporate culture: When every member of the team is on the same ethical and process-oriented page, the team as a whole is more likely to succeed.
One of the easiest (and most clichéd, sure) ways to ensure that everyone remains on the same page is through regular team-building exercises. Pick one day a month, either in the afternoon on a weekday (you can make up the time later) or anytime on a Saturday, to accomplish something together: volunteering at a local food bank, tending a plot at a community garden, going for a hike, whatever.
Lay out the Ground Rules
Two words: employee handbook. Culture helps set the parameters, but your employees also need to hear what’s expected of them — and what they are and aren’t expected to do — in plain English. A handbook is a good way to cover yourself legally, as well.
Values Can Be Subjective
It’s important to remember that, just like the people who make them what they are, no two companies are exactly the same. Your firm’s identity is determined by the industry in which it operates, the people who lead it, and numerous other factors that you know best.
In turn, your firm’s identity determines — to some extent — its values. What passes muster at a competing firm, or a totally unrelated business for that matter, might not fly at yours. The reverse could be true, too. As a leader, it’s up to you to set and enforce the parameters of your corporate culture and work to ensure that your team remains on track.