How to Build a Culture That Your Employees Will Love

You’ve taken the time and gone to the expense of hiring people in order to create leverage in your business—that’s the good news. The question is, “How can you maximize that leverage?”

Well, as you’ve probably already discovered, there are a number of factors that influence how your employees perform. For example, if morale is high, they perform at a much higher level. If morale is low, they perform at a much lower level. Whether we want to admit it or not, if we take the same employee with the same skill set, they have a lot of discretion related to how they use their talent.

So, how can you ensure that you’re going to get the best performance out of your people day in and day out?

Well, the best driver of continual performance is culture. Culture is the 24/7 driver of your workplace, which, by extension, is the driver of your people. If you get the culture right, you can dramatically increase the probability that your people will perform at optimal levels. If you build the wrong culture, you’ll get less than optimal results.

In light of that, what’s the best kind of culture for you to create for your business? Well, here are a few ideas about how you can build the kind of culture that your employees will love.

I. Challenge Them to Be Their Best

While it’s easy to assume that as a business owner/entrepreneur that your employees would want a place where everything is given to them and nothing is required, that’s not actually correct. The A players that you want to build your business with all flourish when being challenged. They know that there’s far more in them than they’re currently experiencing. So, they want a boss who will push them to find that extra gear.

Unfortunately, too many business owners and entrepreneurs are driven by fear (“What if I push them too hard and they choose to leave? Then I’ll be stuck and have to do more work.”). The result is that they tend to lower their standards. They don’t confront. They don’t challenge. They don’t raise expectations. In essence, they become enablers where employees can underperform for years and not get in trouble. In other words, they create the wrong kind of culture where underperformance is accepted as just the way it is.

But that’s not a great culture if you want to maximize leverage. Instead, you want to give your people challenging assignments. You want to hold them accountable. You want to let go of underperformers. You want to push them to find that extra gear. And you want to let your people know you believe in them more than they believe in themselves.

When you create that kind of culture, where everyone is seeking to be their best version of themselves, that’s the kind of high octane culture that A players will be attracted to and where they’ll produce their best work.

So, how are you doing at challenging your people to be their best?

II. Over Communicate. Over Communicate. Over Communicate.

As you’ve heard me say before, “In the absence of information people fill in the blanks, and usually with negative assumptions.” As the leader, you will always have access to far more information than anyone else—and what you’ll probably do, if you’re normal, is you’ll forget that they don’t know what you know.

However, employees hate being left in the dark. They hate it when someone else in your business (or, even worse, when a customer) says, “Do you know about X?” and they have no clue what X is. They hate not knowing how your company is performing, how they’re performing, or what’s coming up next (and so would you).

If you use the basic rule that it’s impossible for a leader to over communicate (or cast vision too much), that’s a good place to live.

Your communication with your team could be a daily or weekly update to the entire staff. It could be a video message. It could be a few minutes during your daily meeting or weekly staff meeting. It could be on your company blog (if you have one). It could be one-on-one communication. Whatever the form, it just needs to be a constant.

And anything new that comes up that you think your people might want (or need) to know, communicate that immediately. Live in the world of over communication (remember, most people miss marketing messages two out of every three times, which is probably a good rule for you to adopt concerning your internal communications).

Employees love a culture where they’re not kept in the dark but feel like they have a good up-to-date read and pulse on the place where they work.

So, how are you doing at making sure everyone who works in your business is up-to-date on what’s going on in your company?

III. Be Generous

As an employee, you know that small businesses are designed so that the business owner/entrepreneur will get a disproportionate amount of the money that comes into that business. After all, it is their business.

But they also know that the owner/CEO has some discretion with how funds are used. And based on how those decisions are made, they know if the company they work for is led by a generous person or a stingy one.

Years ago, I remember reading a line from Rich Schefren that I loved.

“Design your business so that everyone wins.”

I love that. And so will your employees.

In other words, don’t pay the least amount possible. Pay well. As a business owner/leader, you want to provide well for the people who are employed by you so that they don’t have to worry about making their ends meet (especially if something bad were to happen to them). The little bit extra you pay above the norm will generate much better performance and always be a worth the investment.

But don’t limit being generous to pay. Be generous with benefits. Be generous with flex time. Be generous with special bonuses. Be generous with your time. Be generous with little gifts. As a small business owner, you can’t be like a Google and have a cafeteria with free gourmet food, but you can regularly surprise your people with lunch (or an ice cream truck or upgraded coffee or donuts or …). Employees love working for someone who’s generous (not stingy).

So, how are you doing on creating a culture of generosity?

IV. Make Celebration A Way of Life

Everyone loves winning. And everyone appreciates encouragement.

When an employee feels that their boss notices and takes the time to say, “Thanks!” that means a lot. I remember back in the early days of my former career as a pastor, when our church had no money, I used to give away copper top awards (i.e. a penny on top of a styrofoam cup with a handwritten message on it … I dare you to spend less :-). Yet, I could visit someone’s house years later and I’d see those copper top awards still on their shelves. Most people are starving for appreciation. So break the cycle!

But beyond celebrating individual achievements, make sure you celebrate team wins as well. Bringing in cake and ice cream. Or take everyone out to Dave & Buster’s for two hours to play to celebrate that you landed a big contract or hit a key metric or successfully launched a new product. This is the kind of stuff that makes employees feel like they’re both appreciated and part of a winning team.

At the end of the day, winning teams win. There is an air of invincibility that accompanies a team that feels like they’re winners.

Unfortunately way too many business owners don’t celebrate often enough which then leaves their team performing at sub-optimal levels. Make celebration a way of life and watch their performance soar!

So, how are you doing at creating a culture of continual celebration?

V. Model Your Values

One of the stupidest phrases ever uttered was/is, “Do what I say, not what I do.” Hogwash. People do what people see.

Employees hate duplicity. They hate it when they’re required to do something and you don’t do that thing. Or they hate is when you tell them, “Here at XYZ Corp. one of our core values is … “ and then you go out and break it.

  • If one of your core values is speed, make sure you get stuff done fast (and they’re not frequently waiting on you)
  • If one of your core values is excellence, make sure your work product is excellent (with no obvious mistakes)
  • If one of your core values is resourcefulness, make sure you’re resourceful (and not coming up with excuses for why your stuff isn’t completed)
  • If one of your core values is respect, make sure you model respect towards everyone (including the cleaning crew)
  • If one of your core values is honesty, make sure you reek of integrity (and no one is questioning your actions or words)
  • If one of your core values is continuous improvement, make sure you’re the model for learning in your company.

When it’s all said and done, culture is primarily driven by the stories we tell and the model we set. And of the two, the model we set is the more important of the two. Why? Because it’s easy to say something. It’s harder to live it out. That’s why people do what people see because they know those are the real values.

On the other hand, when employees see a boss who “walks the talk” they’re highly motivated to live that way themselves and to produce at a higher level.

Simply put. Duplicity is a morale killer. Integrity is a morale builder.

So, how are you doing at modeling your values 24/7 for fifty-two weeks per year?

Building a culture your employees love isn’t all that difficult. It’s just rarely tried. So, if you want to turn that around, make sure you follow all five of these culture builders.

  1. Challenge them to be their best
  2. Over communicate
  3. Be generous
  4. Make celebration a way of life
  5. Model your values

If you do those five things on a consistent basis, you’ll find that your employees are loving your business more and more. That in turn will translate into higher and higher performance which will lead to greater and greater leverage—which will ultimately result in you building a faster growing, more scalable and successful business.

To your accelerated success!

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