Communicating Culture

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I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I expect people to read my mind. For example, during a recent leadership team meeting, I mentioned that I was frustrated because I had asked someone to do something and they hadn’t done it yet. A coworker asked me if I had given the person a due date. My response? No, I had not. Here’s what I was saying in my head: Do I need to give someone a due date? Shouldn’t they know that I want it done quickly? 

Have you ever found yourself saying that one of your team members should have known better than to do something? How about questioning if someone is a cultural fit? 

Exactly how is someone supposed to know if they’re a cultural fit for your company? How are they supposed to know what you expect as far as behavior and way of life? As it turns out, people can’t read our minds. We need to clearly define our culture and communicate our expectations on a consistent basis. 

To communicate your culture, you’ve got to first put it into words. The best place to start is the company’s mission, vision, and values. 

Mission 

Your mission is your company’s purpose. It’s what you’re asking your team to get out of bed for every day. I think it’s safe to assume that most people don’t get pumped about going to work to extract water, but they can definitely get excited about helping people. It helps to communicate a higher purpose behind our work. Fortunately, that’s easy for restorers to do.

The key to an effective mission is to make it simple and memorable. I can’t even remember the first version of our mission. I do remember it was eloquently written and contained 3 or 4 lines. One day it dawned on me that if I couldn’t remember it, I couldn’t expect anyone else to remember it! So, we changed it. 

Now, our mission is simple, memorable and doesn’t mention anything about restoring damaged properties. But it does speak to the higher purpose behind our work and how we are able to change lives for the better. 

Wondering if it’s time to revise your mission? Try asking some of your team members to tell you the company’s mission in one-on-one conversation. If they’re struggling to find the words, it means you aren’t overcommunicating it, or either it’s just difficult to remember. 

Vision

Are you able to see and describe where your company’s going and what it will be like in 5-10 years? Or, if you’re familiar with EOS, can you choose just one numerical Ten Year Target that represents your company’s vision? If you’re going to write a vision statement, the same applies as your mission: make it memorable. 

While it’s essential for business owners to know what their big goals are, it’s also important to think about how achieving that vision will improve the workplace environment. The people on your team want to know where they fit into your vision. Put yourself in their shoes and ask WIIFM: What’s In It For Me? Think about the place you’re trying to build from the employee perspective, and put it into words that will inspire others to help you build it. 

Values 

If you read the first column in this series, you’ll remember that culture is defined as the shared values and beliefs that define an organization. Your company’s values are the most important element of the culture and they guide everyone’s behavior, so you should spend some time getting this right. 

When it comes to narrowing down your core values, keep a few things in mind:

  • Everything revolves around the values, so don’t choose something you only half-heartedly believe in. 
  • As a leader, you have to be committed to living your values…even when nobody’s looking.
  • You must be willing to hire, fire, and reward employees and accept or decline opportunities based on your values. 
  • Less is more. Try to stay within 3 to 5 values.
  • Make it memorable. While you’re deciding on values, look for ways to create an acronym to help your team remember them. My company’s acronym is TECH: Thankful, Enthusiastic, Compassionate, Humble. 

A good way to get started is to think about your top performers – the ones you consider to be your “A” players that your customers love, and who are respected by their coworkers. Then, start writing down what it is about those people that make them special. 

Values like honesty and integrity don’t make ideal values. They’re expected by you, your team, and your customers, and they don’t make your culture unique. Also, think about what you expect as a leader, or rather, what you won’t tolerate in your culture. You could also describe them as the qualities required of the people who will help you achieve the company described in your vision. 

Resources

You don’t have to do this work alone. When I first started down the path of improving our culture, Scott Tackett recommended that I read the book The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni. This one book will teach you why working on culture is the most important thing you can do to develop a competitive advantage. Plus, it will walk you through the process of developing your core values. I recommend The Advantage to anyone who’s struggling to get their team on the same page and determine what kind of culture they want to create. 

In addition to books, you may want to work with a consulting firm or EOS implementer to guide you through the process. If you do choose to make the investment and work with a coach, do some research and ask for references. 

Communicating the Culture

Once you’ve determined your company’s purpose, vision, and values, it’s time to communicate it to your team. When a team member is constantly hearing the elements that define your company, they’ll know whether they fit in, and they’ll know what you expect. Ideally, you’ll incorporate those elements into your hiring process in a way that will help you attract the right people and detract the ones who aren’t a fit. More to come on that in a later column. 

Communicating values and mission isn’t a one and done thing. It’s been said that someone needs to hear a message seven times before it catches on, so this is something you’ve got to work into everyday life. Think of it as branding your mission and values and marketing them to your team. Here are just a few places you can share your company’s culture elements: 

  • Company website and social media platforms
  • Job listings, interviews, employee handbook, culture guide, onboarding and 1 on 1 meetings 
  • On the walls in your business and on your business cards
  • Monthly meetings and quarterly or end of year recognition awards
  • Screensavers on devices – desktop wallpaper, technician cell phones, ipads, etc. 

There’s no shortage of ways to communicate your culture, but there’s one that stands out above the rest. It’s your words and actions. As the leader, your team looks to you to set the example for the behavior you expect to see in your company. If what you do is out of alignment with your values, people will notice, and they’ll think they have permission to veer from the values. You’ve got to talk the talk and walk the walk. And on those days where you prove that you’re a human and you mess up, admit you made a mistake, apologize, and do better moving forward. Consistency is key for building and maintaining culture. When you keep taking one step forward every day, you’ll eventually find yourself in the company described in your vision. All you need to do is take that first step!

For those who are ready to take the first step, email your name and shipping address to katie@phcrestoration.com and I’ll send the first 10 people who contact me a copy of The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni.

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Katie Smith, CR

Katie Smith, CR is the second generation owner of PHC Restoration in North Carolina, an independent company committed to making a positive impact on its team, customers and community. Passionate about servant leadership and building relationships, Katie plays an active role both inside of her company and within the industry. She currently serves as the President of the Restoration Industry Association, the oldest and largest non-profit, professional trade association dedicated to providing leadership and promoting best practices through advocacy, education & professional networking opportunities for the restoration industry.

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