John Allen: Nature vs. nurture? How you can create a stronger company culture with three steps

 John W. Allen, President and COO, G&A Partners

John W. Allen, President and COO, G&A Partners

It’s an age-old debate: Is character determined by DNA or upbringing? Nature versus nurture? 

Most would argue that character evolves from both. What about companies and their cultures? Is a company’s culture merely a composite of the executives and employees who work there or can a culture be nurtured?

If left to chance, a corporate culture will evolve naturally, but stronger, healthier cultures are nurtured along the way. That doesn’t mean you can manufacture one. At its core, a culture is how a company gets things done. Executives can’t invent an ideal culture that doesn’t align with the way the company actually operates. However, you can help refine your company’s culture and character. Start with the following three steps.

Identify your company’s core values.

A strong company culture, good or bad, reflects the values of the company, its leaders and its employees. What values define your company? What matters most — profits, philanthropy, innovation, safety? If you don’t know, poll your employees. They will have a pragmatic perspective of how things get done.

Once you identify your company’s core values, prioritize the three to five values that are most important.  What do you want to be known for — quality, integrity, or just plain fun?  Keep in mind, this is not what you do; it’s how you do it.  An orthopedic surgeon may be skilled at fixing broken bones, but he gets referrals because of his genuine concern for patients.

Align your actions to your values.

It’s not enough to identify your company’s core values. You also have to walk the talk. Tiger Woods enjoyed a reputation for being a remarkable athlete with extraordinary discipline and sound ethics. However, when revelations of his extramarital affairs surfaced, his reputation was forever tarnished. He’s still considered a great golfer, but no one believes he’s the man he portrayed himself to be.

In the same way, you can’t promote your company as being fair and then challenge your partners at every turn. You’d be better off acknowledging that your company is aggressive. If you try to pass your company off as something it isn’t, you’ll ultimately damage trust with customers.

How can you help ensure that team members model your company’s values day after day? Institute practices that promote your values and the behaviors you want your employees to emulate.

Google, for example, is known for creativity, and its leaders practice what they preach. Google encourages developers to dedicate the equivalent of one day a week to innovative projects outside their job descriptions.

Engage your employees.

The most important, and perhaps the trickiest, piece to this puzzle is engaging employees. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, once said, “The soft stuff is the hard stuff.” The touchy-feely, people side of business is often the most difficult for leaders to manage well, but it is critical to a company’s success. Employees who are satisfied and truly engaged in their work will perform at a higher level and contribute to greater success and higher profits.

Engaging employees is easier said than done (in fact, it’s never “done” — it requires continuous dedication and focus). There are, however, some practical tactics that can help.

For starters, communicate openly, include employees in the decision-making process whenever possible, and seek and provide continuous performance feedback. Show your employees that you care what they think and that you want them to succeed.

Can you nurture your company’s culture? Absolutely, but it has to emanate from your core values and employees have to model those values. The result will be engaged employees who reflect your culture because it’s simply how your company gets things done.

John Allen is president and COO of G&A Partners, a Texas-based HR and administrative services company that manages human resources, benefits, payroll, accounting and risk management for growing businesses.  For more information about the company, visit