Culture Speak: What is Your Company Saying?

How to improve company culture

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One of the telling differences I’ve observed about the construction industry over the years is the refocusing on something called culture. Thirty years ago, very few contractors spoke in terms of company culture. They might have talked about their company as a good company to work at or a company that did quality work, but rarely did I hear them speak of company culture. That has all changed today! Every contractor needs to know and grow a culture that represents the best that they can be.

Consider the following definition: 

"Culture is the cumulative personality of my organization based upon my beliefs, view of what I do, the traditions and values I hold to as an owner or senior leader, and certainly the attitudes and work ethic of all who work in our company.”

Sort of a long definition, but it gets the point across. In many ways, your culture is what others say you are, what they see produced or how they see it produced. It seems to be felt when others an employee, customer or supplier engage your company.

So, should you be concerned with the culture of your company? Yes! And there are steps you can take to build a better culture.

Let’s first take a peek at how others might read your company culture:

  • Your crews leave the jobsite cleaner than when they arrived.
  • Your front office person greets visitors with professionalism and grace.
  • Your field leaders announce to customers when they have arrived and offer to walk through what they will be doing that day.
  • Your foreman is calm and poised fielding customer complaints.
  • Your new employee thanks you for allowing them to work for your company after they have been on the job a few weeks.
  • Your experienced workers help new workers.
  • Your employees voluntarily show up on a Saturday to help move the offices around and do some extra clean-up.
  • Your workers donate, voluntarily, money to help out a fellow worker whose child just got diagnosed with cancer.

These efforts are just a few of the thousands of ways a culture can project an upbeat, caring, family-like workplace and workforce. 

But how can a contractor build the sort of culture that they want to own, something that can reflect all that they know to be good? Consider a few ideas all efforts that I’ve personally helped contractors implement.

1. Develop your company’s vision & values. It is vital to have a clear vision of what you want the company to be focused on. Then create the values to support the vision. Think of the values as “legs” that help to carry the vision to employees, customers and suppliers.

2. Engage employees on how to live the vision & values. One reason some contractors struggle with creating a good culture is that they never talk about their vision and values with all the employees. The “vision statement” is sometimes captured on a plaque or business card, which is fine, but it needs to be talked about. When people begin to discuss how they can really live the vision and values, then you begin to see people putting out a better effort.

3. Recognize and reward employees who are “caught living” the vision and values. Sometimes that recognition and reward might be a dollar, but sometimes an “atta boy” can go a long way. The main point here is that we need to be consistent and proactive. Recognizing the foreman who won over an angry customer can go a long way toward reinforcing the culture you want...and it makes the foreman feel great!

4. Share compliments from customers/suppliers. Most of our workers are, well, working! They haven’t the time to sit around wondering if a customer likes them or their work. However, many customers say "thank you" or “job well done," and when they do make sure to pass that appreciation along. This reinforces employees' efforts and conduct.

5. Engage workers to reflect on the company. This can be touchy for owners, and not all employees will be transparent, but it is still important to give your employees the chance to share how they feel about the company. Working with some clients, I’ve conducted a “Culture Survey,” to measure some of the processes in a confidential manner. This allows employees to respond and rate how things are progressing in the company. If the feedback is taken seriously, and if the owner and senior leaders will work to make good, solid and important improvements, the employees will respond positively.

6. Be authentic. Nothing beats a leader who is authentic. That means addressing even the worst things honestly, professionally and in a controlled and objective manner. If owners and senior leaders are anything, they need to be authentic.

7. Leaders refocus & recommit. In the midst of day-in, day-out work, it's easy to let go of our vision and values. This is the “kiss of death” for the contractor striving to make their workplace “employee friendly” and the “preferred contractor of choice.” Therefore, I urge owners and leaders to have a little monthly time for “R&R,” except in this case, it stands for “Refocus & Recommitment.” If our senior body of leaders do not "walk the talk" as it relates to living the vision and values, there is no way under God’s green Earth the workers will comply. Owners and senior leaders must live the culture first and consistently!