I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with some great contractors through the years. And I shared what I had learned along the way at my own company, and I brought those insights and systems to their companies to help them grow and succeed.
BUT I knew right from the start that this interaction with my clients was always a two-way street and never a one-way street of knowledge.
I got better through the years because of the great contractors I worked with. I learned from the great questions they would ask me that caused me to reflect on what worked for me at my company. It also forced me to seek out more knowledge by reaching out to my respected colleagues who I had met (and admired) along the way. And of course, I got smarter the more I was out there in the world helping fellow contractors.
That said: One of the greatest lessons I got came along very early in my consulting career. I was very fortunate to work with the great Steve Lowry of Lowry Services in Pennsylvania.
Steve shared with me one day as we were pretty far along in our scope of work that other companies he competed with could copy everything he does from his truck design, his marketing, and a whole lot more, but they could never copy his company’s culture.
He was not bragging.
This is not who Steve was and is to this day. He was merely stating a fact. And he was absolutely right. No matter what staff member I met with in private one-to-one meetings, they all freely spoke of how much they loved working at Lowry because of how they worked and respected one another and in particular their relationship with the whole management team but especially the owner, Steve.
Steve told me one day as we were wrapping up work on one of the staffing programs, “Al, the better I treat my employees, the better they treat my customers and the more successful I have become. When they make customers incredibly happy and feel like they are treated well, they are all in with doing business with my company for life.”
He was absolutely right, as he is still right about almost everything. Even today when I check in annually to see how much the company continues to grow and prosper, Steve always is most proud of his team and that the culture is still unmatchable.
Yes, Steve has great people who are well compensated as they should be, but it’s way more than that.
What I know is company culture has to be cultivated in every transaction and interaction. It’s either getting better or its getting worse. There is no standing still. It takes work and that work is always ongoing. And, sometimes, changing company culture can be scary.
What can you do to make company culture better at your company?
Here are just five ways to get you started on a better path based upon the great company cultures I’ve seen and helped make better:
1) Trust your people but verify
Nothing destroys company culture more than employees feeling they’re not trusted or, worse yet, spied upon.
Does that mean you never check in on what they’re up to? No.
It means you let them know that you trust them, but to protect customers, the company, and fellow employees, there are safeguards in place, but they’re not in place because you don’t trust them.
2) Have a clear Mission Statement
I’m not talking about a Mission Statement you copied off the internet or stole from some other company you might have visited along the way. Or even the Mission Statement your Affinity Group provided you with.
You know, the one that’s a dozen paragraphs of all the thing you’ll be that no one in your company knows by heart or necessarily believes in.
A Mission Statement is best when it’s short and sweet so everyone at your company knows it by heart and they come to believe in it when you run the company according to it.
A great goal for a Mission Statement is telling prospective customers what they can expect from you and it also must tell your team what you’ve promised customers and must deliver upon.
3) Always speak highly of your employees in public and criticize only in private
We all know this; but when we get really ticked off or in a hurry, how many us take the time to do this right? The answer is: not many.
When you criticize your staff in public, it doesn’t necessarily make them improve. It tends to make them hide more stuff from you. If you are coaching, there must be defined objective things you’re coaching them on and not you just basing it on subjective things.
4) Be fair to all
Double standards are despised by people at your company. Despised just as much as siblings despise it in a family. Remember, your business, no matter how big or small, is a family, so what type of family is it going to be?
My suggestion is it be a loving, supportive family that has rules that are clear and known and all who violate them are treated to the same Steps of Corrective Action. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Super-Star Tech or an Average Tech.
Even promotions at your company are deemed to be arbitrary because no one knows how they can advance so they assume you pick those you like or those who they deem cozy up to you. It may be a wrong assumption, but perception is reality.
The way to address this is to have policies and procedures in writing. Use the Steps of Correction when they’re violated. Have an Org Chart that explains to them which box they’re in today and where they can go tomorrow and how you will help them get there.
5) Owners lead by example
If your truck is a mess, don’t judge their truck. If your desk is a mess, don’t judge their desk. If you show up late, don’t be surprised when they show up late. If you lie, cheat, or steal when it comes to how you deal with customers and staff or elsewhere, don’t be surprised when they mirror that behavior too.
Just like a dad or mom in a family, the kids tend to mirror the parents’ behavior. As an example, if your dad is telling you that you’ve got to quit smoking because it’s going to kill you, but the ashes are falling off his lit cigarette while he’s doing it, you know it’s more than worthless.
Hey, you’re the creator of the culture. Yes, you, the owner.
If you don’t like it, you can change it, but you may need help to learn how to do it. Get one-to-one coaching, join a Peer Group, read the wisdom of great businesspeople and leaders who espouse the virtue and value of a great company culture, and act accordingly.