Part 2: Wolves In Your Hen-House

In Part 1 earlier this month, we discussed culture in the workplace.   We received a solid response to it, which tells me it’s a top-of-mind issue for many business owners.      

Bad culture can kill a great business.   One of our best clients is a CEO who had an “old friend” in a key, mid-level position.   This was a 20-year employee, and during the last few years his under performance has become evident.   I’ve seen first-hand the CEO fight a war inside his own mind: the employee is, on some level, a decent human being and capable of good performance, but he had become insubordinate, stubborn, lazy, and disgruntled.   Worse, he is affecting and perhaps infecting certain other employees who see two things:

  1. Management is hesitant to act, and
  2. Maybe I can act that way, too.   

We all knew what had to be done here, but let’s not pretend these things are easy when there are real people involved, and we care about them.       

Ultimately, though, you must care about your company’s culture more than the people who are wrecking it.   Compromising might be a better word for it, because sometimes the wreckage is subtle.   If you want a few big ideas about creating, reinforcing, and nurturing a strong company culture, consider these:

Police your Policy!   Everyone knows that it’s good business to have written policies that your employees are required to read and understand.   What’s worse than having no policies? Having policies that are not followed. In a small business, you won’t usually have a robust Human Resources department.   You don’t need that, but you do need a strong Office Manager. The role of the OM is to hold everyone, regardless of position, accountable to the policy. Her role is to be the “cop” – and that’s all.   It is not her job to be the judge and jury, or to hand out discipline. Her job is to point the employee to what the policy says, seek clarification from management if necessary, and ask management to intervene if the employee will not comply.   

Make Your Own “Secret Sauce”    I don’t know how to avoid food analogies on this one.   Every business has its own unique internal culture – or, rather, it should.   This can be anything – or many things. It could be an internal motto. It could be in your own special internal communications policy (use of email vs. phone vs. face-to-face, for instance).   It could be in the way that you recognize and reward exceptional performance. We could do an entire article on just this – but whatever “this” is, it compares to your grandma’s Special Sauce – no one else needs to know the exact recipe.   All they need to know is it tastes good – it works. It makes your company go faster and better, and it gives your employees a sense of pride and purpose.   

Time Is a Killer    You must respond to culture risks within your company immediately.   I know this is common-sense, and I wouldn’t even write it except that I see business owners failing at it all the time.  Delaying action with a problem employee will have consequences, and those consequences are predictable. Imagine if, today, you got pulled over for a speeding violation that occurred 11 days ago.   You would be confused.

Have a Celebration Policy    Good culture should be fun.   It should be full of fist-bumps, congratulations, and laughs.   When it works, it has momentum. To keep the momentum, you need to know what things should be celebrated, and when.   So you landed a new piece of business, you won an award, you reached some business milestone – celebrate these things and, to paraphrase Taylor Swift, never, ever, ever, ever, ever cancel those celebrations because everyone is “too busy.”   

Be Nice    Yes, this is from Patrick Swayze’s character (Dalton), in Roadhouse.   Yes, there are about 1,000 internet memes that use it for comic effect.   There is a reason for that – it’s memorable. Company culture is sustained from the top-down, and if you are the boss, you need to remember two things:   a) Deal directly and quickly with cultural problems in your business, and b) Be Nice about it. But remember also, that the full line in the movie is “I want you to be nice….until it’s time to not be nice.”   

Don’t be a pushover.   Your business is worth defending.  

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