How to Build a Positive Culture

Let’s say you and I operate competing hardware stores in the suburbs of the same city. Most likely we’d carry a similar assortment of products, arranged in a comparable store layout. And we’d probably be recruiting staff from the same labor pool.

One of us may have a slightly larger building or better location, but generally speaking we are in the same business. We certainly can’t win a pricing war, so how does one of us gain a competitive advantage? The answer is culture.

Company culture is established one of two ways: Leadership drives it intentionally or it evolves on its own when leadership abdicates responsibility. The latter often leads to a negative and even toxic environment. On the other hand, when a company clearly defines its culture and constantly communicates its values, people generally come together. Teams tend to thrive and prosper in a culture of pro-active positivity.

How to build a better culture
CEOs have near complete authority to define culture in an organization. But few of us get to that level so we have to work with the existing company culture. But whether you are managing a team of 10 or 1,000 you can still impact attitudes in a positive way.

I learned early in my career that people tend to follow the boss’s lead. If you are a quiet and stressed-out captain, most of your team will fall into the same mode. If your default is a smile and you appear happy, more often than not your team will follow suit.

In a leadership role you set the tone and, importantly, your actions as a leader define the culture in your unit. If you pad your expense reports or send out overly critical communications, you’re setting a negative example. But when you display an upbeat attitude, you will soon find out how contagious it can be. Start here:

  • Lead with a smile, a big “hello” and positive, intentional conversation.
  • Start building a culture of earned respect through constructive, forward-looking performance evaluations.
  • Carve out “coaching” time to send a message that you support, invest in and trust your team.

Your actions have a direct impact: Typically, a positive culture with high morale leads to more productivity and less turnover.

Make your message clear
Leaders build a positive culture by talking about it at every opportunity. Take most meetings and conversations as a chance to reiterate the mission and vision of your company. The  goals for your business unit should also be part of regular discussions. Bottom line: No one should be confused or in the dark about mission, vision, values and goals. You’ll maximize achievement by getting everyone on the same page.

Don’t be shy about the topics that are central to culture. Remember, it’s more than acceptable to talk about with your people about:

  • The importance of ethical behavior
  • Showing respect for others
  • The impact of a positive attitude
  • Helping peers, working as a team and taking initiative
  • Embracing change and performance accountability for all

Regularly discussing — with as much enthusiasm as you can muster — all the factors that support a strong culture will keep the momentum alive.

I hope you already work for an organization with a positive culture, but if not, you still have the opportunity to build a strong culture in your environment. I hope you’ll take the initiative to influence your work culture for the better.

published Nashville Business Journal

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