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Creating and Keeping a Company Culture

By Sonjui L. Kumar Email By Sonjui L. Kumar
November 2015
Creating and Keeping a Company Culture

It may be the biggest problem that you don’t know you have-Company culture. Do you have one? Do you need one? What is it? The discussion on culture is having its moment. If you are a multi-national corporation, your culture may be well-known and covered by the media, or, for the unlucky ones, in glass door complaints from former employees. A lot of energy and resources are spent on creating, changing, managing
and maintaining a company’s culture. 

So what does culture mean in the business context? Also, is it important to have one? The answer to the second question, according to industry experts, is a resounding yes! Culture is what separates a company from its competitors, it is what identifies you. Think of it as the company’s personality. If someone tells you that they work for Apple, Zappo’s, or Disney, what’s your reaction? My guess is that it’s positive. “Oh, what a great place to work at.” “Wow, all that innovation, you must love it.” Now think of some other companies, even well-known ones, that don’t have the same positive vibes. That’s their culture.  

So how does a company create a culture?  Interestingly, you probably already have a culture, but are just not aware of it. It may also not be the one you want. Are you a work hard, play hard company? Is teamwork promoted or is it survival of the fittest? Are you on the cutting edge of your industry or really good followers? Do you foster transparency or secrecy? Deciding the culture that you want to have is critical to achieving it. It can help you screen candidates and can be the most important factor in selecting the company’s leaders.  Culture can range from how the company manages its employees, to how personnel interact with customers, suppliers, and partners. Culture can help retain talent in the company. Is your company a happy place to work? Is it exciting to be a part of your team? Culture may be the reason customers return or choose another firm for their business. Is it easy to do business with your company? Do you support the communities in which you do business? 

In startups or early stage companies, the culture is defined by the values and style of its founders. Their core beliefs on how the company should be operated creates the culture. Founders can learn from prior experiences, good and bad, when figuring out who they want to be. Once those values are identified, they need to be communicated internally and externally and integrated with how the company conducts itself. Unfortunately, one or two wrong hires can change the environment, especially in smaller enterprises. Recruiting and retention are critical to keeping the culture that has been created. Weed out people that are a negative influence on others. A good worker who has not bought into the company values can be more detrimental than a poor performer. 

Maintaining a culture is just as important. The entire leadership team needs to be part of the messaging. New people have to be taught the culture and asked to respect and enforce it.  Companies have different ways of doing this. Some have week-long orientations in exotic locations that include spouses. These events are used to share overall company information and values. Others dedicate a few days each year to focus on leadership meetings and team building.  Some companies bring employees together to support charitable causes, fostering both team and community spirit.

Cultures need to evolve, and savvy leaders recognize and allow changes as companies grow or enter other industries and markets. Cultures may also need a shake-up if they are not working.  Are the company’s expectations too relaxed to survive in a competitive marketplace? Has innovation stalled? Cultures should not be stagnant, they should be a continuing reflection of the company’s values.

To summarize, culture:

is important and you should be aware of yours;
should be based on the core values of founders
and leaders;
must be communicated;
should be considered in all employment
requires vigilance to maintain; and
needs to evolve.

Business Insights is hosted by the Law Firm of KPPB Law.

Sonjui L. Kumar is a corporate transactional lawyer representing companies in all aspects of corporate law, including corporate governance, mergers and acquisitions and cross-border transactions. She is a founding partner of KPPB Law.

Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only,and does not constitute legal, tax, or other professional advice.

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