There are two key aspects to building a successful company culture. The first is creating a fun and relaxed atmosphere where your employees love coming to work each day. The second is creating an environment where your employees collaborate with each other, are challenged to work hard and improve, and are accountable to themselves and the team on a daily basis.
The latter is the tougher one to accomplish. It's also what enables a company to build a strong foundation of core employees, which can lead to faster growth. When I started Lawline.com in 2006, I was too focused on the fun part. Then we hit a roadblock because everything still revolved around me. When we started focusing on the collaborative environment, accountability and growth everything changed. The company size tripled in one year but, more importantly, we created an atmosphere where people loved what they did, excelled in their roles and became leaders in the organization.
Here are three key building blocks we used that are easy to implement without having to invest time or money in training:
1. Culture of discipline. According to New York Times best-selling author Jim Collins of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't, every organization that achieved greatness first built a culture of discipline. For us, this consisted of conducting regular morning meetings, changing our dress code, and most importantly holding everyone accountable on a daily basis.
- 8 a.m. huddles. At first it was just a few people in the company who met for early meetings, but as the energy started growing, the gatherings quickly spread to every department. The meetings evolved into huddles -- short but high-energy meetings. Huddling is one of the simplest and effective ways to build creative energy and focus within your company. Employees who show up to early meetings demonstrate a commitment to the company and to their fellow team members.
- Inform of uniforms. Our employees hardly ever interact with our customers. Even so, our policy is that all employees must wear business attire every day. We implemented this policy was implemented nearly two years ago, and the effect has been a more professional and collegiate working environment. All interactions -- in person, by phone or through email -- have an elevated level of professionalism.
- Accountability. Accountability is what led to the most substantive improvement in our company. To assist our employees in managing their workload, we requested that they email their managers their tasks and goals each morning. In the evening, they were to notify their managers about which tasks had been completed.
Later, we created a shared Google document where everyone had access to see what their team members were accomplishing each day. This helped managers to work one-on-one with employees who were struggling by giving them clear direction on setting their daily agenda. This accountability led to greater productivity in every department.
2. Energy in vs. energy out. In a small business, it is important for managers to see a return in the energy they are investing in each employee. We created an “Energy In vs. Energy Out” diagram to show team leaders that if they devoted 10 percent of their energy to an employee, they should get a positive ROI of at least 15 percent energy output. The diagram ensured that we avoided giving too much energy to those not reciprocating. It also helped create a culture of discipline where we focused our time and efforts on our best people who were adding the most value.
3. Vested interest. Another key to growing the company involved treating our key employees as partners with vested interest in the new culture -- and the success of the company. We showed them how the business worked from the inside out and, most importantly, we gave them the power to change everything. We also began to encourage employees come to us with complete thoughts. For example, if an employee approached us and said he thought we should send more postcards, we would first ask for a detailed plan and after some time the employee would come back with costs, an offer, the states we should target, and an expected ROI based on past returns.
Over time, our employees learned to put together full plans before approaching managers with new ideas. The trade off is that when someone has a good plan, we implement it, even if we're not 100 percent sure it will work. We trust that we have an internal partner vested in making sure the plan is successful. We've implemented several successful employee plans including a live event series, expanding to a new state, and launching an iPad app.
We are fortunate to now have successfully achieved a fun atmosphere where our employees come early, act professional, exude positive energy, and feel committed to the success of the company, while always pushing each other to find a better way to accomplish our goals.