5 essential ingredients of a winning business culture

Once you have the right people in the right seats, and a process for ensuring that your people remain the right people in the right seats as the business grows (as discussed in the last article), you have set your team and your business up for success. In this article I will provide some thoughts on creating a winning culture for your business.

Every business will have its own unique culture that develops over time. Culture can be created by design or by default. Usually it’s a combination of both. Likely some elements of your business culture will just evolve based on the people you have in the business, and that’s ok. But here are 5 essential ingredients of a great business culture that you want to foster intentionally.

1. 4P Alignment. Peter Drucker famously said that culture eats strategy for breakfast.  In other words, if your business has the best strategy in the world, it won’t amount to much if you don’t have the business culture that people want to be a part of. In my view, having a clear strategy for your business, and communicating it to your team, is the #1 thing you can do to create a great business culture. 

If you have been reading my articles for a while now, you will know that I think the best strategy for any business is to align the 4Ps—Purpose, Planning, People, and Processes—of the business. Doing so allows all team members to have a sense of the big picture and to connect their role in the business to the overall purpose of the business. It also allows them to know how what they do every day helps the business carry out its mission. 

Without the 4P alignment strategy for the business, team members can feel disconnected, unimportant, and unmotivated. On the other hand, team members who know how and why the 4Ps are aligned will be more driven to help the business achieve its vision.

2. Accountability. Team members who know what they are responsible for will rise to the challenge. Team members who don’t will produce mediocre results because they are constantly wondering if something is or isn’t their responsibility to deliver.

Accountability fosters teamwork. Everyone loves being a part of a team and to do their share not to let the business down and to help the business win. As I have written about, the building block and weekly meeting structure you adopted as part of the Planning portion of your business creates the culture of accountability for you. 

3. Make Each Other Look Good. A few years ago at a management conference I attended, an improv group performed. The performers were very funny and had the audience laughing the whole time. Yet I don’t remember a single specific funny moment from that show. What I do remember was their message at the end of the show. The leader of the group told our audience that the key to improv is making each other look good. Each member of the group must come up with a line or action that sets the next person up to continue the skit in an interesting and funny way. If they don’t, the skit loses momentum and humour and grinds to a halt. In fact, in the improv world the best performers aren’t the ones who have the most funny lines, but rather it’s the ones who set people up for the most funny lines. 

You want to foster a “make each other look good” mentality in your business. Each person on the team should perform their duties in manner that makes other team members look good. Imagine the impact on your culture—and business—if everyone on your team performed that way. 

4. Train Them Well and Treat Them Well. One of my favourite quotes of all time comes from Richard Branson who said “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” Give your people the knowledge and resources and support they need to be successful. And treat them so well that their continued success will benefit your business and not a competitor’s. 

You will always have people move on from your business, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily. Change can be good, and if someone wants to move on then they weren’t the right person in the right seat anyway. But when you train them and treat them well, if they do leave you won’t be left to wonder what you could have done differently to keep them. 

My wife is a doctor of chiropractic and one of her mentors always used to tell her only to see patients when she’s not training her staff. In other words, training is so important that it should take priority over the revenue-generating activities of the business. In the long run, properly trained team members allow the business to generate more revenue.

5. Fun. And of course you want people to have some fun along the way. After all, a business should be profitable, impactful, AND enjoyable. Not every day at work is going to be like a day at Disney, but you want a culture that has some Disney moments from time to time. What constitutes fun is going to vary based on your business and the makeup of your team. Socials? Games? Retreats? Pets? Competitions? Wellness activities? Sports teams? 

As a business owner your role in creating a fun culture for your business is to both lead by example and also follow the lead of your team. Add some levity in your interactions with the team, but then let them propose and decide what fun looks like in your business. Have a Fun Committee with a budget. And, as if it needs saying, have some fun people on it– think the opposite of Angela on The Office

A business I worked with recently said about themselves “we take our work seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.” I thought that a great way to articulate the culture of fun in their business. 

Like I said, every business will have a different culture. But if you can bake these five ingredients into your business culture, you will have a recipe for success.

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