The place to be Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2009

Andy Medley has seen one too many executives model a culture after that of another company and then watch it fail because it didn’t fit the organization.

To eliminate that potential problem at his three companies, the president of Trace Communications LLC and his partner, Scott Hill, decided to separate their companies from under one roof. That transition left them with the challenge of redefining a culture for the 35 employees at the printing company, which helps newspaper customers generate revenue.

“The initial thing was looking at what are the things that are most important to us and what do we want to hold true,” Medley says.

Smart Business spoke with Medley about how to implement a corporate culture that will work for your company.

Q. How do you create a company culture?

Figure out what you want and figure out what you think is going to make the business do well. Make it a place where people are going to want to work.

The first step my partner and I did was sit down and say, ‘Let’s create an environment that, if we were in the marketplace looking for a job, we would pick this place. What types of things does that look like?’

After you decide that, it’s got to fit you. It needs to fit your personality. It needs to fit the strategy for what you’re trying to accomplish.

The easiest way is to look around your company and get a good sense of what motivates them and what they like about the company.

Empowering employees and educating them on how they can affect the company positively or negatively is the first place to start. One of the employees brought me research on dress codes, and basically he was trying to get me to change the dress code. We sat down and talked, and he gave me a proposal. I read it and said, ‘Yes, this makes 100 percent sense.’

This is where the fit comes in. He and I are agreeing that this dress code works.

But why does it work?

Let’s explore the reasons that we think that it’s OK for us to dress this particular way.

It’s something as simple as that.

Q. How do you implement a cultural change?

It’s little bitty steps that are slowly making change. If I came in and changed the way we did business and changed the way we interacted, it’s not going to work. People are going to come in and see it as fake.

You try and move as quickly as you can, but not so fast that people feel like it’s out of control or they don’t have any say in what’s getting done.

You can’t just step in front of people and say, ‘We’re going to change this, this and this.’

The one thing to recognize is that it wasn’t perfect at first.

You’ve got to be comfortable with the fact that when you go into it, you’re going to make some mistakes, and things aren’t going to be well received.

Q. How do you get employees to buy in to the culture and give you feedback?

Constant communication. I’ve never stood up in front of the group and said, ‘This is what our culture is about.’ It’s more along the lines of talking about the business specifically and what we, as a company, can do to improve ourselves.

I try to walk around and joke with people in the company just to see where they’re at. See what the overall mood is, see what the activity is. Make sure people feel like they’re appreciated for the work they’re doing. Make sure you’re creating the behind-the-scenes relationships that presidents sometimes take for granted.

The buy-in is not always going to be 100 percent. You want to make sure that the overwhelming feeling of the company is buying in to what it is you’re trying to do. Hopefully, because that sentiment is so strong, it dramatically outweighs and, more importantly, silences the people in the company who might not feel the same way.

We get feedback from anybody who wants to give it. There are people in the company that I have a good relationship with that feel comfortable with me sharing honestly and candidly about things that are taking place beyond the scenes. So when we’re rolling something out, I talk to somebody about what’s a good way to do this, or, ‘Can you help get me some buy-in behind the scenes when there are conversations when I’m not around and you can explain why we’re doing these things?’

You try to get key influential people in the company, who have a lot of buy-in from the rest of the team, in on what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s not that you’re trying to manipulate that, you’re trying to help them make the decisions that you’re making better.

If you’re getting constant feedback from them, but at the same time, you leave the door open for anybody to give feedback, you’re typically going to get a good mix and have a pulse of where the company is at.

HOW TO REACH: Trace Communications LLC, (317) 644-5800 or www.tracecommunications.com