If you look at some of the biggest, most valuable companies in the world — names like Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook — many would wager that their success is primarily attributable to luck (“Not everyone can be like Mark Zuckerberg”). But the truth is, one of the biggest reasons why these companies became massively successful is because they hired the right people early on. The entire strategy at these companies attracts the right employees. Because employees today want to be part of something grander than just going to work. They want to work for a company that has a bigger purpose, one beyond simply making money. Companies that understand this attract better employees and experience less turnover, which in turn drives profit.
Hardly a day passes without someone asking me for business advice. I’m sure most entrepreneurs experience the same thing. Be it a student, a struggling entrepreneur, or an up-and-comer at a large company, most people want that “one top tip,” that single piece of advice that can place a person on the path to success. If only things were that simple. The reality is that there are myriad things that contribute to business success. But here are five steps to nurturing the right workplace environment.
- The Power of Vision: “Where Are We going?”
If there were one thing I wish I had understood earlier in my career, it would be the power of having a vision. You cannot start planning if you do not know where you are going and what you wish to become. Unfortunately, not all employees are fully aware of where their organization is heading, but having a clear-cut vision can rectify that problem. Everyone in the organization will be kept in the loop, and this awareness will give them the focus to best carry out their assigned responsibilities.
Companies with vision have a BHAG. Meaning “Big Hairy Audacious Goal,” the term was first coined by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1994 book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. A well-thought-out BHAG encourages companies to define visionary goals that are more strategic and emotionally compelling. Because a great vision is inspiring. It gets you and everyone in the organization excited to come to work; it’s the cathedral that disciples arrive every day to passionately construct. But this is not mere abstract thinking — a vision must also be both strategically sound and reasonably tangible.
- Culture: It Needs to Be Personal
Once the vision is set, you can move on to building the next important piece, the corporate culture. Two of the most important aspects of this are keeping it authentic and making it personal. Your company culture needs to be an extension of your own consistently held and clearly demonstrated beliefs, and this goes beyond dollars. You should be personally invested in the fate of your company; after all, it’s your baby. Your fingerprints should be clearly visible on everything in your company, and its culture should be a reflection of who you are as a person and what you care about. Steve Jobs was a visionary perfectionist; those ideals still permeate to everything Apple does today.
Culture can make or break a company. According to a Bain & Company survey of 365 companies in Europe, Asia, and North America, 81 percent believe that a company lacking a high-performance culture is doomed to mediocrity, yet fewer than 10 percent succeed in building one. Culture is not something you simply write on a wall. You need to nurture it. It constantly evolves from day to day and you need to give it the freedom to grow. There’s a reason an oft-cited Gallup survey discovered 70 percent of American workers are disengaged on the job. Companies and leadership can easily get caught up in the everyday struggles and forget the importance of creating an inspiring overarching culture for employees.
This is especially important for entrepreneurs and small businesses to keep in mind. You don’t need to be a Fortune 500 company to develop and implement a great culture. You don’t need Facebook’s money, Zappos’ popularity, or even an office slide to build the culture you want. No, the best way to keep the focus on the culture is to assign ownership. It sounds simple, but companies need someone who is directly responsible for their culture. Of course, this person can’t do it on their own, but deputize someone to focus on culture and push everyone else in the right direction (whether they’re hiring candidates or managing company events). Remember, chase the vision, not the money. If you create a culture where people love coming to work and are moving in the same direction, you will land where you set your heights.
- Hire Slowly, Fire Quickly
Hiring and firing is a routine part of company growth. This may seem obvious, but many companies are running at such a blistering pace that they oftentimes discount the importance of selectiveness in favor of expediency when filling positions. This one hiring mistake can kill a company’s culture and seriously hurt a company’s profitability. Hiring slowly and methodically to find the most appropriate people that fit your company’s culture is of the utmost importance. At our company, we hire for attitude only; we only want positive people in our organization. I firmly believe that someone with a great mindset and positive attitude can and will learn anything. In most companies, attitude trumps experience every single day.
In the last five years, our company has won numerous local and national awards. These awards are the result of employee surveys. The reason this is important is because we continue to attract the very best new people. To ensure this, we have a hiring process that consists of three interviews in three different locations with three different people. I want to make sure that we are hiring the right people, and that is worth taking the necessary time.
Inversely, be sure to fire quickly because believe it or not, the people you fire are more important to culture than those you hire. By handling toxic people expediently, you will command the respect of the rest of your staff, maintain the culture, and reduce workplace stress.
- Functional Systems: The Keys to Working Less
Business systems are often overlooked by many small business owners, as it can be hard to focus on operations when you are busy growing a company. However, developing systems is the only way to truly work less in the long-run and better understand the direction of your business every day. Every business has several key systems that, when run properly, will help the business to be profitable. Monitoring these systems and watching key measurements within them will let the owner know when to make changes and when to keep plotting the same course.
Here are my top four systems:
Workspace: This comes back to vision and culture. A pleasant working environment with clearly defined goals can really make a difference in employee morale and is usually just a matter of thinking about your employees needs. Good morale brought about by small tweaks to office design or décor can help to increase job satisfaction and productivity making for a more successful, happier business. Once a positive system with a clear vision is in place, your office will function more productively.
Bookkeeping: Keeping up to date with how your business is doing financially is paramount. Keeping track of expenses will help you to make good buying decisions, and watching the inflows of your business will tell you if your sales and sales conversion are working. This can be done by using software or by hiring a bookkeeper. In either case, the owner must analyze the reports to truly understand if the business is profitable.
KPIs / Measurement Systems: KPIs are Key Performance Indicators you must define and keep track of throughout the year. Each measurement should be reviewed with a particular frequency and then adjustments must be made to the business based on the trends the measurements show.
Workflow: Define how the work flows within your business. How does a file or order flow through the business? How does the phone get answered in your business and how does the call get handled? What happens when you take on a new client/customer? How does the work get tracked? Who makes the decision when there are conflicts? Define the inputs of each employee involved. Where are the handoffs within the workflow? Look for places with no coverage and define it.
You want to build a business that runs efficiently without you and this can only be done with well-defined and well-documented systems.
- Transparency: “The Currency of Trust”
Transparency is a powerful thing in all relationships. The reason most leaders are not transparent is because they believe they will be viewed as less authoritative — that the credentials they’ve worked so hard to attain will lose their power, leverage, and gravitas — if they peel back the curtain. But people want to relate to their leaders. People want to know that their leaders have experienced the same problems and personal hardships. It humanizes them.
If you survey the workplace —aside from the need for job security and career advancement opportunities – employees want to be a part of a workplace culture that puts a premium on delivering the truth. They desire their leaders to be proactive in sharing where the company is headed and forthright about its future. When leaders are transparent, problems are solved faster. By being open and honest about company problems, employees can help find solutions. And several heads are always better than one.
A culture that values transparency in the workplace breeds engaged employees. In fact, Harvard Business Review’s 2013 employee engagement survey revealed that 70 percent of those surveyed say they’re most engaged when senior leadership continuously updates and communicates company strategy. And employees don’t just quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. The 2014 CareerBuilder survey revealed that 37 percent of the 3,008 employees surveyed were likely to leave their jobs due to a poor opinion about their boss’ performance.As people become more transparent with one another, their relationships deepen. And who is responsible for leading that move towards transparency? It’s the leadership of the business. Transparency has to start at the top. Begin making these changes today and be closer to having the company you want tomorrow.