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5 Ways to Work on Your Company Culture

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Organization leaders must make it their personal missions to work on culture, to talk about it and to evangelize about it.

I recently read a great book by Dee Ann Turner called “Bet on Talent—How to Create a Remarkable Culture that Wins the Hearts of Customers.” 

Isn't that what we're all trying to do? 

We're ultimately trying to win our customers’ hearts. 

Turner makes as concise and impactful a statement as I've ever read: "People decisions are your most important decisions." 

We probably all know that instinctively, but to read it in black-and-white that way really crystallizes it. 

So often contractors treat people decisions as necessary evils: "Oh my, we just lost a project engineer? We've got meetings to attend, deadlines and pressure. Now I've got to stop what I'm doing, this vitally important stuff, and hire a new one. What an interruption of my valuable time!" 

That is so wrong-headed! 

People decisions are the most important decisions you can make!

Healthy Cultures

Let's define company culture: Culture is how we treat each other on our shared journey; what it's like to be one of us at work. 

How do you know if you have a healthy culture? There are a few signs. 

Healthy cultures have an intentional focus on both people and the culture itself. 

For example, McDevitt & Street, the greatest construction company of which you've never heard, required their senior executives to devote 20% of their time (one day per business week) to their people. 

Think about that! 

If you required your senior leaders to focus one business day a week on not just tasks, not just jobs, but people, what benefits might you experience? 

Healthy cultures have terrific values, mission, and vision statements, and they live them. 

Everyone knows them, they discuss them, and they're taken to heart up, down, and sideways in the organization. 

People have positive attitudes, and they trust each other. They innovate and collaborate. 

Healthy cultures promote transparency, team play, cooperation, and making a difference. 

They show appreciation for one another, and they have a sense of stewardship about the company and its resources.

Toxic Cultures

On the flip side, how would you recognize a toxic culture? 

In poor cultures, there's a lack of psychological safety. 

In psychologically safe organizations, it's OK to bring up uncomfortable things like a project badly off schedule because good contractors want to run to their problems, not away from them. 

Turnover is a key indicator in poor cultures. 

If people are leaving you, especially your better ones, that's a bad sign. Toxic cultures have a focus on compliance and enforcement of rules. 

For example, a friend remarked to me that her daughter, who wanted to fly home for a holiday weekend, had to demonstrate that she skipped lunch that day to “earn” the privilege of leaving one hour early! 

That's an unhealthy emphasis on compliance and enforcement.

Poor cultures produce an attitude of “can't do.”

There are countless people I've talked to people in service industries and they’ve said, "We can't do that." 

What I want to know as a consumer is: What CAN YOU DO? How can you resolve this problem? In toxic cultures, such negatives are the norm.

5 Way to Improve Company Culture

1. Culture starts at the top. Organization leaders must make it their personal mission to work on culture, to talk about it and to evangelize about it.

2. Continue to refine your values, mission, and vision. How can you improve them and make them simpler? After many years of working on ours, we've crafted it about as simple as we can: "We build better contractors.” If your mission is six or seven paragraphs long and filled with extraneous language (most are, don’t feel bad!), it can be dramatically improved. Make your values, mission and vision so simple that anyone on your team can recite them at a moment’s notice—and when they do, the statements resonate in their hearts and souls! 

3. Focus on getting better, not just getting bigger. All contractors want higher volume, but there are so many other ways to grow. Why not improve morale? Why not improve your employee engagement? Bigger isn't always better. 

4. Focus on your people relentlessly. How can you help your people do their jobs better, faster and more efficiently? What equipment, technology or additional help do they need? Improve the experience of not just your customers but your employees too. How can you remove obstacles in their paths? How can you make life easier for them? 

5. Show appreciation. At the Family Business Institute, we start every meeting with appreciation. It's not enough to say, "Golly, you all worked really hard last week, and I sure do appreciate that." We want to know specifically who did what and why it was important to another on the team. Showing appreciation lets people know that the little things they do are important because they add up to big things.

Here's a question: Do you want to build an organization, or do you want to build people that help you build your organization? If you bet on talent and work relentlessly on your culture, you'll be able to do the latter.

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