“I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.” ~ Louis Gerstner, IBM
One of the most difficult parts of building a business is putting together a team of individuals who will work well in a diverse environment. Getting multiple personalities to work together to create something great might be the hardest thing any owner or manager can do. Conversely, it might be the easiest. What’s the secret?
Those of you who know me know I grew up in the hospitality/travel/cruise industry where some of the biggest cruise ships in the world have over 2000 crew members from over 60 nationalities working hard to accomplish one goal: to provide an exceptional experience that exceeds expectations. That should be the goal of every business. The way to get 2000 (or 2 if the case may be) employees working towards the same goal is to develop the right culture, so that they look forward to coming to work and producing their best results. The unique dynamic of working on a cruise ship is that you actually live with your co-workers, sometimes up to 6-8 months at a time, so the culture has to be solid and rooted in values and ethics.
The right culture lays the foundation for success. From the first day on the job to the last, everything from training to communication to recognition. (And we can throw in compensation to vacation time to dress codes.) We have developed a More Than Perfect® model that lays the foundation with four basic blocks upon which everything else within the company resides. These are Business Benchmarks, Developing Your DNA, An Elite Experience and A Conscious Culture.
- Business Benchmarks lays the groundwork upon which you want to build your culture. It sets a base from which to grow. It lets you know exactly where you and your company are today, and starts the process for where you would like to be. If a company has not given much thought to developing a company culture, this would be the place to start. It might include mission and vision statements as well as core values and principals. Feedback from customers is also important to take into consideration at this time.
- Developing Your DNA. Now that you know where you are and what your present policies entail, it is time to determine the direction of the company in terms of what you want to accomplish. This can be anything from what time the day starts and ends, how long to break for lunch, vacation and sick leave policies, communication procedures (maximum time to answer an email, pick up the phone, return voice messages), empowering employees to handle customer problems and concerns, service issues, etc. What are the policies and procedures if there are problems amongst employees? What does your orientation program entail? This should be a living, breathing document that can be updated at any time. It is important to learn from the past so mistakes are not repeated, as this is where standards will be set.
- An Elite Experience. Now that you have developed the personality or soul of the company, it is the time to start implementing the policies, procedures and principals. It is imperative to get everyone onboard, from the CEO on down to the newest employee, because if only a few people buy into what you are trying to create, it will not work. Attitude is so important, as most employees will take their lead from the top. Positive, consistent actions on a daily basis will highlight what you want to be emulated. Continual training is necessary, so that everyone is aware of the standards that are expected. Remember, service is an attitude, not a department.
- A Conscious Culture. Once the culture is established and the standards are set, continuous improvement is the norm. It is also important to recognize those people that go above and beyond what is expected. Employee engagement and recognition is vital to the success of any company, as people want to look forward to coming to work every day: it should not be something they dread. Be creative in coming up with ways of engagement. Make sure to get constant feedback from your customers, as well as your employees, as those on the front lines are the ones who can see where improvements can be made.
These are the four building blocks that lay the foundation for everything within the company. And while these four blocks do not cover everything a business will deal with, they do set the tone and standards from which everything else can be determined. The goal of every company should be to make your customers, as well as your employees, raving brand ambassadors. You want everyone singing your praises in terms of product, service and selection.
Remember—the goal is to create exceptional experience that exceeds expectations. Customers want the assurance of knowing that when problems arise, they will be handled properly and in a timely manner. Making sure your company culture drives this process is the first step toward long-term profitability. And isn’t that what everyone wants?
One final note: Happy employees make for happy customers. Life is too short–don’t forget to have fun!