Personnel e.bulletin – November 2013

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Culture is one of those topics that is easy to be baffled by, to put into the “nice to have” column. That makes sense as long as you subscribe to the notion of culture as “soft”, therefore relevant only when it happens to come up in conversation, but absent of any real reason to care from a bottom line perspective.

The tag line of this article is intentional. You must pay attention to culture.  It is far from soft and is essential to your company performance – no matter how big or small the size of your company.

Let’s start by establishing a definition of culture.  Maybe one of the reasons that culture is so mystifying is because of the hundreds of meanings and definitions attached to it.  In a recent article in the small business section of the New York Times, culture was defined simply as; “what you value, what is important for you and your company.” The shape of your culture must start with you as the business owner and govern the way you think, act, and feel – your unique culture spreads to your employees and becomes your company’s learned and shared set of behaviors, standards, and norms.

Why Culture is Important
The shape your culture takes will play a big role in how well your business will do. It is a key factor in sustainable profitability and long-term performance for successful businesses.  Companies with winning cultures:

  1. Execute better – on their business strategies and priorities.
  2. Maintain a healthy external focus – on customers and competitors rather than internal politics or turfs.
  3. Have employees who think and act like owners – they take responsibility for overall business performance, not just their own.
  4. Exhibit a bias for action and results – there is little patience for bureaucratic debate.
  5. Attract winners – cultivate them too!

Why Culture is Urgent
In the absence of shaping a culture, it will get shaped for you. If you are lucky, you are surrounded by the highest of performers and/or teams that think and act just like you need them too – they figure out how to do that through osmosis!

Most of us are not so lucky.  Winning cultures don’t just happen, not even in small or family-owned businesses.  Cultures that create themselves are almost always counterproductive to what is needed to drive company success.

Think about culture as a process of “sense making” in your company, as the carrier of the meaning of the “what” and the “why.” Without a way to make sense of behaviors, norms, and values – your people will make their own interpretations and assumptions. What if their thinking is wrong? What happens when your culture starts to subversively work against you in the background, foiling your best efforts and plans? Culture is urgent – below are some strategies for creating a winning one.

How to Create a Winning Culture

1. Define your distinctive personality:
What values are so important that you will fail with out then?
     – What will hold your company together through the thick and thin?

2. Communicate your values repetitively:
     – Make your values a part of conversations with employees and customers.
     – Ask yourself and others – “How can I/you embody our values?”

3. Integrate your values into everything you do:
     – Your actions will speak louder than you words. If you say that you value transparency, yet do not deliver it – you will break your peoples trust.

4. Define expectations of high performance:
     – Clarify goals and accountabilities.
     – Add performance metrics and incentives.

5. Hire smart:
     – Be fanatical in the recruiting process about finding not just the most talented, but those best suited to your culture.
     – People stick with cultures they like and bringing aboard “culture carriers” reinforces the culture you are trying to build.

6. Purge smart:
     – Are there people in your company that don’t fit with the culture you are trying to build – worse yet, are they undermining it?  Work to address these cases through performance improvement planning.  If you don’t, you will risk impacting employee morale.

7. Reward your best:
     – Employ value based, smartly designed incentives – the best predictor of what people will do is what they are incented to do.

Components that Shape a Company’s Culture

Mission/Vision Statement – Simple turns of phrase provide a purpose:
     – To be the most honest and ethical trade partner of choice.
     – To employ value engineering, effective construction practices and hard work to deliver our products and services.

Values – The core of a culture:
     – Teaming:  We assemble the right experience and apply it with dedicated enthusiasm.
Integrity:  We embrace the highest standards of fairness and ethical behavior.
Leadership:  We are diligent leaders who encourage people to reach their potential.
     – Commitment:  We deliver projects on time, within budget, and to the quality specified.
     – Excellence:  We review and improve our people and processes.
     – Responsibility:  We are fully accountable to others for our actions.

Practices – The stuff that brings your values to life:
     – Organization structure:  Flat or hierarchical?
     – Performance management feedback system:  Seldom or frequent?
     – Teams involvement in decisions:  Lots or little?
     – Customer feedback loop:  Open or closed?
     – Space:  Creation of formal or informal interactions?

Symbols – Things that can be identified with:
     – Admired former employees can become cultural symbols by giving  awards named after the individuals, complete with ritual ceremonies.

Rituals – Events that reinforce:
     – Professional training days
     – Company volunteer service events
     – Anniversary celebrations

As hard as it is to create a winning culture, don’t put it on the back burner. Research abounds that supports culture as a source of profitability and competitive advantage. Culture can also be a source of mediocrity when its importance is underestimated.


This content was developed for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc. ( Please consult your HR professional or attorney for further advice, as laws may differ in each state. Laws continue to evolve; the information presented is as of November 2013. Any omission or inclusion of incorrect data is unintentional. Please note this article is not intended to provide legal advice or to substitute for supervisor employment law training.

The PHCC Educational Foundation, a partnership of contractors, manufacturers and wholesalers was founded in 1987 to serve the plumbing-heating-cooling industry by preparing contractors and their employees to meet the challenges of a constantly changing marketplace. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting the Foundation by making a contribution at

Culture is one of those topics that is easy to be baffled by, to put into the “nice to have” column. That makes sense as long as you subscribe to the notion of culture as “soft”, therefore relevant only when it happens to come up in conversation, but absent of any real reason to care from a bottom line perspective.

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