I've got a thing for Southwest Airlines. And it’s not just the prices. There is something fundamentally different about Southwest that makes them my go-to airline.
It dates back to my first flight with them. I was flying to Las Vegas, so people were admittedly a little happier on this flight. But there was one point where the flight attendant locked eyes with me, and she actually threw a bag of peanuts at me with a smile. A little gesture that made a big impact.
And that was just the start. Southwest Airlines employees seem to genuinely enjoy their jobs, which made my experience all the better. And I think it starts with the company’s culture.
Company Culture: Not Organic,
But Still Good For You
Company culture is often overlooked. Either that or most companies tend to think that culture is organic, that it just evolves. So they sit back and sort of let it happen. Big mistake.
Here’s the truth about company culture: you’re going to get one whether you like it or not. You can let corporate gravitational pull take its course, which can be disastarous.
Or you can plan, design, and build the company culture you want. Here are 9 ways to help you do just that.
1. Start With Your Core Values
This is your company. You’re driving it. Infuse it with your personality—or the core values you want to fuel it with. Do you value creativity? Passion? Relentless customer service? It’s a good idea to start at the basics here. Boil everything down into the three or four values that you can’t live without or sum of the way you want to do business.
But don’t just stick to simple words here. Define those values in your own words. What, exactly, do you mean when you say "creative?" How do you define "kindness?" Adding your own personal twists to even traditional values will start to build and flavor your culture in amazing ways.
2. Empower Your Leaders
Leadership ultimately sets the tone for your organization's culture. Your leaders are the steady drumbeat that your employees can count on for guidance and example.
Make sure your leaders are all on the same page. The word to keep in mind here is alignment. When your leaders are all rowing together, the culture of your company will really take off.
3. Hire Right
It's great when business gets going fast, but don’t let that speed up your hiring process. From top to bottom, nothing can build or destroy corporate culture faster than the people you hire.
Find people who are driven by many of the same principles and values you are. Once you find them, put them in positions where they can bring those values into play.
4. Fire Fast
This isn’t advice you typically hear, but it’s pretty important. We always focus on finding the right people, but it’s hard to bowl with perfect strikes all the time. Inevitably you’re going to end up hiring some people that just aren’t good cultural fits. The mistake most organizations make is that they keep those people around way too long.
Don't worry that you're being unfair by letting go of an employee who isn't a good fit -- they will probably fit in great somewhere else. Give them the opportunity to find the best company culture for them at another organization. Offer them a fair severance package and be upfront. It’s your culture at stake here, and it’s not worth letting the minority bring it down.
5. Respect the Structure
The way your company is structured says a lot about your culture. Several years ago, Apple elevated its design group so it reported directly to the CEO. This sent a clear message to the rest of the organization—Apple would be a design-driven company, and that has steered (and changed) everything. Figure out what you want to drive your company and make any structural changes necessary to make it happen.
6. Hold an Offsite
I’m not talking about kumbaya and trust falls here. A good, well-planned offsite meeting with your company or leadership can be instrumental in developing culture. Ask you leaders what they like and don’t like about the current culture. There will be disagreements, and that’s ok. The important thing here is that you’re making culture a central part of the larger discussion at your company.
By having the conversation away from ringing phones and e-mails, everyone has a chance to be reflective and not worry about their to-do lists for a short time.
When it comes to culture, there are no gatekeepers. Culture is shared. And to share culture, to make sure it spreads through every single level of your organization, you need to communicate it. Make sure your values are well known. Even more importantly, companies need to recognize and reward employees who advance the culture. But make sure communication isn’t just hollow words. If it’s reinforced by behavior and recognition, it won’t be.
8. Have Patience
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither is your business's culture. It takes patience, and it takes consistency. If you’re not seeing the big changes that you want in a few weeks or even months, make sure you’re building culture the right way. If you are, relax and let culture slowly start to blend its way into your organization.
9. Always Put People First
This might be the most important step in building a strong company culture. I’ll go back to Southwest Airlines here. This is a company that values its people and it shows with everything it does. The trickle-down effect is impossible to avoid.
When people know that they’re cared about and respected, they do their best work. So look for ways to engage your employees on a more human level, and you’ll see culture catch on in ways that you could have never imagined.