Creating a business culture

A corporate atmosphere must be created deliberately

Tony Johnson
TJ & Associates

After interviewing more than 2,000 applicants, trends become apparent. Interviews typically start with a general question, "What are you looking for in a new opportunity?" The answers invariably look like the following:

• A place where people get along

• A place where my ideas are listened to

• A fun work place because I will spend more time there than I do at home

• A company that treats its employees and customers well

• A company with a strong reputation and integrity

What applicants are referring to, of course, is the company culture. If there is a disconnect in this area it can cause good employees to leave companies as well. How can organizations deliberately address their company culture to improve retention of key employees? There are three important steps that companies can immediately take to make an impact on this critical element of its business: setting clear expectations of company values and ethics, hiring the right people and leading from the top by setting a positive example.

Through a series of exercises, it is possible to craft a company mission and values statement, which will set expectations of company values and ethics. How to get to that end point will depend on how large your company is and how much process and procedure it can handle. These values may come from the top or be born out of a companywide process. In the end, you will be left with a series of words or concepts that will comprise your company values. For sake of discussion, those values may include: customer focus, profit driven, teamwork, creativity, ethics and integrity. It is important to further define what these words or concepts mean to your company in a clear and direct fashion.

Once the values are defined, how do we then hire people who match those qualities? One approach is to show candidates the list of qualities and ask if they fit. This tactic usually backfires as most applicants will quickly align themselves to those qualities. Instead, through a series of behaviorally based questions, we look for those values in their responses. A second method is, through thorough reference-checking, to determine how these applicants behaved and performed at previous positions. The best predictor of future performance is past performance. However, as with any hire, there is no process that is 100 percent accurate so we develop the best tools possible to increase our chances at a strong fit.

Leading from the top by setting a positive example is imperative. If the leader of the company is vocal and consistent about making decisions based on these values; others will follow. Those that do not follow will soon find that there is a disconnect and will leave the company or be asked to leave.

This is a simplistic view of a complex but important concept. The important thing to remember is the company culture is defined through its values which are reinforced through every decision and action of a company. Just as not deciding is a decision, to not create a culture does not mean one is not created. A culture will always emerge; if it is not deliberately put in place it may not support your overall business objectives.

Tony Johnson is president of TJ & Associates, a small business offering custom services in recruiting, business and human resource consulting. TJ & Associates can be reached at 360-263-2676 and

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