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7 Ways to Build a Culture That Embraces Employees, Customers and Suppliers and Drives Success.

Keys to driving a successful business culture
There is probably no subject I write or speak about more than business culture.

Mostly because I constantly get reminded of its importance and how it is so frequently misunderstood. Recent issues with companies like Wells Fargo, where their then soon-to-be-ex-CEO noted that their culture was a success when it clearly was not, it was their employees who failed.

Small business culture isn’t
a sign on the wall or slogans.

It’s framed by the values of its founders and key people, but it is implemented by how the small business operates. No matter what you say, your culture is driven by what you do!

A successful culture is multi-faceted because it has to embrace multiple constituencies. Not just internally, with employees, but externally with both customers and suppliers. In short, you have to “walk the talk.”

But, how do you do it? How do you create a culture that embraces employees, customers, and suppliers, while at the same time, drives success? Here are seven critical steps you can take that will help you down that path:

Hire the right employees.

Duh! But not so fast. Of course, you want to hire employees with the right experience and background for the job. But few companies ever really give the proper thought to hiring for cultural fit – what best fits their particular culture and size. For example, if you’re a company whose revenues are around a $1 million, it would be senseless to hire somebody whose background only included Fortune 500 type companies, no matter how deep their experience. They probably could not relate to and, most likely, simply wouldn’t fit your operation.

Create an optimum environment for employees to succeed.

This involves three important elements:
  1. Creating an environment of mutual trust and respect where honesty “drives the bus,” across the company;
  2. Accountability, where job roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, and the authority and sufficient tools to carry out those responsibilities are provided;
  3. Employees are engaged and motivated by encouraging teamwork and risk-taking and where mistakes/failures become teachable moments.

Listen to employees.

While the previous step should help employees to feel valued, respected and challenged, if they are not heard, you are missing an important opportunity to make the culture even better. Create a forum for them to voice their opinions. Schedule periodic, face-to-face meetings, both company-wide as well as “one-to-one” with you the owner, if possible. I have used this technique, successfully, in every single company I have ever started or run and it always paid countless dividends in better understanding both individual employees and the company, as a whole.

Create an environment where customers want to do business with you.

Remember, employees will treat customers the same way they are treated by the company. So, if you address employees as described in the two previous steps, you’ve already created a foundation for that environment. But there three additional elements here”
  1. Extend the environment of mutual trust and respect where honesty “drives the bus,” across the company to all customer relationships;
  2. Adopt an attitude of “customers pay our salaries – they are why we exist, not the other way around;”
  3. Love them so much, they never leave – a customer should feel like they are your only customer.

Get and act on customer feedback.

Communicate with them constantly. Have formal customer surveys where they can give honest and direct responses rather than just simple ratings, especially after a new sale, or a new product release. If it makes sense for you particular business, think about creating a User Group that can provide objective advice about your products and maybe even an Executive Advisory Group (made of up of key executives of customers) to provide you feedback about your company and plans.

Make supplier relationships more like partnerships.

Remember, suppliers are entrepreneurs as well. Explain to them their role in your product development or delivery process and their importance to you and your customers. Make them feel a partner instead of a just a vendor. It’s amazing when you need to trim your price to get a deal how much a good supplier relationship can help you to negotiate that.

The most interesting man in the world from Dos Equis

Stay thirsty, my friends

Dos Equis beer created a set of commercials around the “most interesting man in the world,” who’s famous tag line was – “stay thirsty, my friends.” My interpretation of the combination is to always find new and interesting ways to do existing things. And that is the essence of keeping a culture fresh. Keep the music playing.

A successful culture is more than just catchy words or slogans, more than a simple vision. To create a successful culture you need to consider three critical constituencies – employees, customers and suppliers. And you have to live your culture with each one. Your culture is not about what you say, it is about what you do. In short, you have to “walk the talk.”

"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things. He's been there. May success be with you!

What have you done to, uniquely, make your culture successful? Please share your thoughts in your comments. It can help another entrepreneur or small business owner.


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