How to Build a Strong Company Culture, From the Inside Out

While there are a few companies that come out with revolutionary products or services, the majority of non-technical businesses rely on branding and customer service to excel. The brand that provides the best client service and elicits the best emotional experience is often the one clients will choose, at least in the long term.

The question is, how can you offer the best possible client service even if, in reality, you’re offering the same product or service as your competitors?

It's pretty simple -- the key to growing a successful non-technical business is to focus on your employees first.

It all starts with your company culture, the inner company experience felt by employees, vendors and investors. Think of culture as the guts of a company, the true nature of who you are as a business. The customer service and branding is the outward expression of your culture and how it is experienced by your customers. The way in which you serve your clients is nothing more than a reflection of your inner culture.

Some companies choose to fake culture and just use talking points that sound good. That used to be enough, but more and more, customers are demanding higher levels of customer service that culture-less companies just can't provide.

My advice is to avoid faking it at all costs. If you have a strong culture in your company, your client service experience will reflect that. And, inevitably, if you don’t have that culture, that too will be reflected in your customer service efforts -- or lack thereof.

So, if culture dictates customer service (which then dictates profits), what is the key to culture?

Leadership.

If you want a great company culture, it all starts with YOU. You need to be the one who sets the tone and determines the mindset of your employees. As a leader, there are three main areas on which you need to focus on in order to get the most out of your employees and create a fun, enthusiastic, productive and profitable team environment:

  1. Setting the course. The first step of the leader is to define your company's core values -- in other words, what your company stands for. This will be a litmus test used to determine how you hire and when you fire. To define your core values, simply think about the best attributes of your most ideal employees, and then define those in words. Many companies have core values that simply sound great, but the companies that live out their core values on a daily basis by sharing stories and examples, and rewarding actions that fulfill them, are the companies that develop a true sustainable culture.
  2. Hiring key players. The next step in creating a great working environment for your team is to hire the right team members. A lot of business owners follow the mantra, "Hire slowly, fire quickly," and I agree. However, hiring and firing should be based more on an employee's attitude, personality, and vision rather than their skill set. If an applicant has a personality that matches your company’s vision and values, along with a positive, upbeat attitude, then he or she is more likely to stick to the company vision for success and follow the same path as everyone else you've hired.
  3. Maintaining the standard. Once you've hired employees who fit the company culture based on attitude, personality and vision, it’s up to you to keep their spirits up. As a business owner, it’s easy to get sucked into a nearsighted staring contest with the bottom line. Don't get me wrong, you have to keep a vigilant eye on your dollars and cents in order to be successful, but at the end of the day, you also have to keep your employees happy. It’s a balancing act between the bottom line and the employees’ happiness; focus too much on either one and neglect the other, and you’ll fail.

The secret to managing your budget while keeping your employees motivated and upbeat is that they each run on different fuel. Your bottom line runs on money and cost-effective strategies. Your employees don’t. It may seem like money is their primary motivator, and many of them may believe that money is the root of what they want. But in most cases, the thing your employees crave the most is feeling like smart, valued and important members of the team.

Knowing that they're appreciated and that what they're doing has a larger impact is one of the best motivators they'll ever have. Sure, you can show your appreciation through pay-raises and bonuses (and, at some point, you’ll have to), but a lot of times, non-monetary rewards and recognition is more important than money. Have fun, and reward hard work in a creative way. If I slap a gold star sticker on an employee’s forehead, that employee is likely to get up and walk out. If I make it a priority to stand up in front of the entire team and say, “Look what Fred did. Without Fred’s hard-work, we wouldn’t have accomplished this. We’re a better company today because of Fred. Good Job Fred. You rock,” then not only does Fred know that I’m unabashedly thankful for his work, but his teammates are likely to be motivated to work even harder too.

However you reward your team, just remember that leadership defines the culture, culture dictates customer service, and customer service determines longevity and growth. By defining and living your core values, hiring the right people, and reinvesting in your team emotionally, they’ll turn around and bring in more money for your bottom line. In short, focus on the employees -- and the rest will take care of itself.

Nick Friedman is President and Co-Founder of College Hunks Hauling Junk and College Hunks Moving, the largest and fastest growing US-based junk removal and moving franchise opportunities. He started the business in college with his best friend in a beat up cargo van, and now has over 40 locations nationwide.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

About Nick Friedman

Nick Friedman is President and Co-Founder of College Hunks Hauling Junk & College Hunks Moving, the largest and fastest growing US-based junk removal and moving franchise opportunity. He started the business in college with his best friend in a beat up cargo van, and now has at least 50 franchise locations nationwide.

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