An entrepreneur starting and growing a company is faced with many management decisions.  You have already settled on a product and are working to expand your customer base.  Great thought is given to developing your product or service to meet the demands of that increasing customer base.  You consider marketing channels and are beginning to create an infrastructure which allows for company growth.  But, aside from the product or service you provide, what will be your company culture?

Company culture is not created by having a “Casual Friday” or my favorite, “Doughnut Monday.” The term reflects an overall company attitude that has an effect at all levels of work performance and employee decision-making.   A company culture is not easily described, but it is easily inferred.  David Siegel, CEO of Westgate Resorts, recently sent an email to his employees which stated, in part, “If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company.”

From the standpoint of gaining insight into company culture, ask yourself what it would be like to work at the company headed by Mr. Siegel.  The answer to this question would be to describe what the company culture at Westgate Resorts is like. My definition of company culture is that “All those aspects of a company that have nothing to do with business part of the company’s business”.  If you reply by saying, “But everything at a company has something to do with a company’s business,” I would say that you understand the importance of company culture without knowing what it is.

As a contrast, the late Steve Jobs had this to say about the employees at Apple, “The people who are doing the work are the moving force behind the Macintosh. My job is to create a space for them…”  The contrasts between these two quotes from Jobs and Siegel reflect the differences in management attitude.  One reflects a top-down dictatorial approach; the other expresses an open and creative environment.  Both of these companies are successful, but the question here is what kind of environment is created to achieve that success.

But if both of these companies are successful, why does company culture matter?  If the goal for your enterprise is to continue on a path of growth and success, I suggest a primary strategy to do so is to attract and retain the best employees.   Pay is the primary means by which to do so, but not the only factor.  With equality in the workplace, a current employee will work, or a prospective employee will want to work, in a company with the best environment.  This I confirmed in my work in turn-around management.  As corporate ships sink and environments deteriorate, the best employees could only be retained with bonuses based on length of continued tenure.  Everyone wanted to jump ship, and usually it was the best employees that found it easy to do so.  Your best employees can find a job somewhere else – if their current environment is less than desirable, they will leave.

Now imagine that your best employees are leaving you for your competition.

Too often a company’s culture is the result of organic growth, the result of the personality or personal characteristics of top management.  This may be good or bad, but your corporate culture does not necessarily have to be a passive by-product of your personal qualities.   With awareness and proper management, you have the ability to determine your company culture.  Your first step? Create a company mission statement that expresses the goals and values you wish for your company to embody.

I learned a significant company culture lesson in a consulting engagement where I was asked to make recommendations regarding “rank and file” employees’ dissatisfaction with recently installed management.   Every day in the office started with all employees standing in a circle for a ten minute meeting.  A supervisor would ask for individuals to share both in previous day’s successes and challenges.  Congratulations were given for individual successes and group feedback was provided for those having difficulties.  The meetings always ended with everyone holding hands and reciting the company’s mission statement – a statement that reflected both a commitment to providing the best products and services to the customer, and to employee career growth and development.

At first, my reaction to this daily group hug this was huh?  Then I reflected on it. This was a Southern California company started in the mid-1960s with a long history of success and and a strongly committed staff.  Its customers had a similarly strong attachment to the company.  I realized that changing this culture would be more detrimental to the company than finding new management that would foster it and that the management had not only defined the company culture, they had instituted actions to reinforce it.

The lesson here is that your second challenge in shaping your company culture is to manage in a manner which promotes your mission statement.  Do that, and you have created a company culture of your choosing. Events like Doughnut Monday are the result of your company culture rather than the description of it.

Company mission statements are available online.  Sample a few, copy the principles which fit your personality, describe your values and what you believe will drive your company to success.

As your enterprise grows, a company culture will certainly develop along with it.  The issue is whether you, as entrepreneur, will have a conscious hand in shaping it.

Timothy Spence is a JD/CPA with extensive experience in company transition – both start-up enterprises and turn-around situations.  Mr. Spence combined his previous Accounting Management background with a law degree from Pepperdine University School of Law focusing on Corporate/SEC Law and Domestic and International Intellectual Property.