I consider myself to be a student of “culture building.” And I whole heartedly believe that culture has a direct impact on business performance. It was a lesson I learned as a young PR pup, learning the ropes with my first big client, Continental Airlines – whose efforts to change their culture saved the airline and resulted in a business school case study kind of turnaround.
Since then, I’ve observed, learned and absorbed every client’s approach to culture – and it is no surprise that the annual Fortune Best Places to Work leaders all talk about the role of culture in enabling their businesses to be successful.
Building a performance-driving culture isn’t rocket science. Most of the rules of the road come from simple lessons we all learned from our grandparents:
- Treat people with respect. Google’s Larry Page said it perfectly: “When you treat people with respect, they tend to return the favor.” Respect isn’t just about talking to them nicely – it is about trusting them to have some control over their work – whether that is their schedule, their assignments, and management of priorities. Respecting them enough to share the big picture strategy. And yes, work-life balance counts too. Page says you need to treat employees like family – you probably need to treat them better than family.
- Treat people as individuals. Employees are not a flock of sheep. We’ve developed super sophisticated ways to market products to micro-targeted groups of customers…recognizing the trend in individualization applies to the internal customer too and can be a real differentiator. It’s also how companies like Wegman’s and companies you may never have heard about like Camden Property Trust break into the Top Ten. Perhaps the most extreme examples of this philosophy are the 14 companies who have a “no layoffs” policy. The interesting thing about them is that many of them are in businesses that are hardest hit by the recession and changes in public policy– retailers, travel companies, healthcare and even AFLAC. So they aren’t businesses who grow in all cycles.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Repetition is the key to culture building. Grandpa’s story about walking to school uphill both ways served a purpose. When you are sick of talking about something, your team is just starting to hear it. And when you are ready to choke yourself, they are starting to believe this is more than the “direction du jour.” Stay the course. Reinforce your message. And most importantly….walk the talk.