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How to build a great company culture

Ronnie Altit
19 May 2011 3 minute readShare
A businessman holding a crown of paper dolls

Ronnie Altit's startup has just turned one, and at it's birthday party he learned a positive lesson about what it takes to create a great corporate culture. Learn that lesson for yourself in this post.

In my last blog I wrote about my experience in attracting staff to join a new business and I left it with this question: “how do I build an environment that will serve to keep staff motivated, challenged and keen to succeed?”

There is an enormous amount of literature that talks to building corporate culture which is paramount to keeping staff motivated and challenged. The theory often makes sense yet my experience has taught me that the practical application of such theories is key (and a lot more challenging than writing about it!).

As a small start-up business I was presented with a blank canvas and, for those of us who have built businesses from the ground up, you will understand that this canvas is not one that can be easily painted over. Having inherited many teams in the past, I have learnt that regardless of the best intent, changing a culture in an organisation is far more difficult than building it from the beginning.

When starting Insentra I was very mindful of this important fact and am acutely aware of maintaining a positive corporate culture. As a services business, the quality of the work we deliver is paramount – you are only as good as your last engagement. Whilst all businesses strive to have the highest skilled staff with a strong service ethic, my view is that unhappy staff lead to unhappy customers (regardless of capability) and a bad culture in a business leads to unhappy staff. Therefore, if we are building a sustainable long term business our culture has to be not just good but great.

So what have I tried to do and how successful has it been so far? The best way is to share a story that took place at the first birthday party of the company. After an entire day of frivolity, massages, food, alcohol, bowling and more food, we found ourselves in quiet surrounds just chilling out. Whilst sitting around, one of the team members piped up “Oy… guys… how incredible is this company?” to which there was a resounding cacophony of “absolutely’s”, and “best place I have worked”.

As the proprietor of a business, I was thrilled by the passion in the entire team. And it wasn’t lip service. Rather than simply accept the feedback as gospel, I took the opportunity to dig a little with the team because I wanted to understand what it was that has them feel this way. Whilst not my intent at all (it was a party day after all not a work one!) the conversation that ensued went for two hours, and even though I tried to shut it down and get back to partying, the team wanted to chat.

I was very happy to hear that the culture I was trying to create was what the team felt. Words used were “a family environment, a sense of belonging, a feeling of being appreciated, can-do attitudes, inclusive, open, honest, utmost integrity, respect, trust, exciting, challenging, willingness to go above and beyond, a sense of team, not just a job but a career, approachable management and, critically, passion – for individual, team and business success”.

Just what any business owner wants to hear!

Indeed, these are just words yet they are exactly the culture we strive to maintain and our actions every day are based upon these fundamentals. Every person in the team is a contributor in their own right with something unique and valuable to bring to the table. In my view, it is the acknowledgment of this fact and helping people to feel that they make a difference that is key to a positive culture.

So why did it take two hours? We defined the culture in about ten minutes.

The balance of the time talking about how we keep our culture as the business grows. The message I wanted to convey to the team was that maintaining and building upon the culture, whilst driven from the executive leadership, is the responsibility of ALL team members. The foundations have been laid and are solid. The essence of building the culture we have is down to the entire team. Positivity begets positivity and the corporate culture built is translating into happy customers. Happy staff make for happy customers which makes for a happy bottom line!

With the foundations of a solid team and a positive culture in place, how does one ensure profitable growth?

How to build a great company culture
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Ronnie Altit

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