Defining a Company Culture

What defines a 'company culture?'

In the U.S. alone there are over 50,000 jewelry stores, 70,000 food stores, and 150,000 salons (2,400 of which are located in Alabama alone). With such a large number of similar businesses, being able to identify your company culture is an important strategy in standing out to today's consumers. Defining this culture goes deeper than coming up with campaign slogans or logo taglines, it originates from your mission statement and core values. More than what you do, its how you do it.

Once you have a clear idea of your company culture, make sure it is communicated to your employees as well. They are, after all, the spokespersons of the culture and the first point of contact for most service-oriented businesses. If there is no distinction made you run a serious risk of hiring the wrong kind of employees or, even worse, fostering an arbitrary brand that conveys a bland, uninspired message.

The Zappos Method

One the most successful company cultures in recent memory has to be Tony Hsieh's Zappos. With Zappos, Hseih made a conscious decision to emphasize customer relation and a strong company culture (instead of competitive pricing) that has seen the business succeed where many have failed. His more progressive efforts include upgrading customer shipping to overnight (for free), offering potential employees in-depth training and then a paid opt-out option, and encouraging employees to speak openly to customers (even going as far as allowing them to walk the customer through a checkout at a competitors website). All of these efforts have stemmed from and contributed to Zappo's company culture. When interviewing for positions Zappos often refers to its culture to see if the potential employee's background fits which in turn helps the company to grow in a way that is relative to its brand.

So, how does one define its company culture?

As with anything else there are numerous methods for uncovering your company culture including making a list of you top 10 core values, hiring a consultant, or communicating with your employees. Never underestimate the importance of employee input. Even though you may be the one with the big picture, it is your employees that expedite that vision to the customer. One way Zappos does this is by allowing its employees to contribute to a Culture Book that expresses how they feel working at the company.

You don't have to publish a book, but at least listen. You'll be surprised by what you learn.


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