25 years ago, I had no idea what “culture” was. I couldn’t even conceive of how culture could (and would) improve my bottom line. If you are anything like me, in those early days, my #1 concern was how to make enough money to cover my expenses. I took “any” project, I discounted prices to close the deal, I worked ridiculous hours, I said yes to almost everything — you get the picture. I was in survival mode and fully ON the hamster wheel, headed for burn out. And then one day I realized, there HAD to be a better way and a transformation began. I didn’t know it then, but it was the beginning of our culture shift and it would transform everything.
You see, I had unintentionally opened a values-driven company. Our original name was Above & Beyond. Our goal was to go above & beyond client expectations and to place equal importance on client satisfaction AND staff satisfaction. You know, the Golden Rule – treat people like you want to be treated.
Culture Lesson #1 – live your values out loud
I said it, but I wasn’t doing it. We were certainly working to exceed client expectations, but I was a complete control freak and so although my values said “empower people” my behavior said “I can do it better or faster”. So, was I really contributing to staff satisfaction? I don’t think so. And, on the client side, since I was taking “any” job, it was sometimes difficult to exceed client expectations since some people are simple impossible to please.
Culture Lesson #2 – you do NOT have to do business with anyone
Awareness is the first step. I was aware that things needed to change and here is an abbreviated version of how we identified and shifted the culture (and ultimately rebranded to C3Workplace):
- Take the time to create your Mission Values Vision statement – what do you do, what do you stand for and where are you going. This becomes the barometer for all you do. This MVV needs to inspire your team, your colleagues, your clients and YOU! We’ve guided many business owners in creating their MVV and we recommend you start with some journaling (and this Simon Sinek video). Find some creative, uninterrupted space and time. Create a list of what is important to you; what impact do you want to have on the world; what do you want to be remembered for … think legacy. Remember, this is where your market differentiation will come from as well. Revisit, revise, flush it out.
Getting clear on what you stand for gives you more time to focus on driving the business forward – improving your bottom line.
- Communicate your MVV to the world. Be sure that you are using this core messaging to communicate your brand and your service offerings. Let this language find its way into your elevator pitch, the cover email that goes out with your monthly invoice, as well as your email signature. Make sure the world knows what YOU do, what YOU stand for and where YOU are going.
By differentiating yourself, you will close more business – improving your bottom line.
- Use your MVV to align and empower your team. I often refer to myself as a recovered micro-manager. In order to live up to my MVV, I had to empower my team and become a leader vs a manager. My starting point: staff meetings. Your team meetings may be you and a couple subcontractors, key vendors and/or mentors. But trust me, you’ve got a team (or need one) and regular meetings are magical … eventually.
When I first started having staff meetings, I did all the talking. It was painful. But I learned to accept silence as the path to feedback. I learned to ask open ended questions and actually wait for answers. I learned to focus on results vs methods. And, my team learned to trust that all ideas are welcome, even thought we won’t use them all. My team learned that they co-create our future (as long as it’s aligned with our MVV).
By aligning and empowering your team, you will unleash and harness the collective intelligence and creativity of your team – improving your bottom line.
- Use your MVV to recruit and screen talent (employees, subcontractors, vendors). Our hiring process is values first, skills second. We can teach skills, but you cannot teach values. Your team needs to believe what you believe. Period.
By hiring the right people, you will avoid costly mis-hires (possibly one of the most expensive mistakes small business owners make) – improving your bottom line.
- Use your MVV to say NO. You cannot be all things to all people. That means, you cannot work for everyone. I have fired large clients because they were not aligned with our values – the work was such that we were simply setting ourselves up for failure (unrealistic expectations, lack of response, missed deadlines on the client side); or the client treated my staff inappropriately, repeatedly.
By saying no to high touch, low profit clients you will clear out negativity and make room for the right clients – improving your bottom line.
It has taken time, but we have fully shifted the culture at C3Workplace. This culture is what we are known for in the world – we are a force for good, we believe people can build profitable companies and make the world a better place. We live out that culture in what we do – providing office space, virtual assistance, bookkeeping and business advisory services; and in how we do it – modeling what it means to be a profitable business that is a force for good.
I believe culture is where momentum finds roots. Momentum is powerful and profitable. Pretty awesome, right!