What Exactly Is Culture?


You hear a lot about business culture, both good and bad – think Ritz Carlton and Enron. Think of culture as your company’s personality. It’s how you do things and how you treat people: employees, peers, suppliers and customers.

Everyone in the company leaves their fingerprints on the culture. Each person carries influence.

Culture carries a huge influence. Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture may be a so-called “soft issue,” but it can play hardball with your company’s bottom line.

Defining Your Culture

When thinking about culture, the first thing you need to ask yourself is, “What do I want my company/brand to stand for in the eyes of my customers and the community I serve?”

Is it customer service, low prices, great appearance, store design, product variety, foodservice, eye-catching landscaping, community involvement, etc.? What’s it going to be? Think long and hard about this. All great brands stand for something; not everything, something – one thing!

Once you’ve figured out what it is you want your company to stand for, the next thing to think about is system and people. System first, people second.

In terms of system, what types of processes, procedures, policies and organizational structure will be required to facilitate and support, not impede, what you want to stand for?  

Once you’ve figured out your system, turn your focus toward people. What type of people will you need that will easily fit into and drive your culture? Great companies are ruthless at only hiring people who are a perfect fit for their culture. Hiring a misfit puts your culture at risk, which in turn puts your company/brand at risk.

Hard vs. Soft Culture Components

In terms of hard culture components, think of things like speed, agility, adaptable, innovation, operating efficiency, low cost structure, high employee engagement and productivity, customer focus and strategy development. Great cultures are organized for high performance. Great performance doesn’t happen by accident; great performance is achieved through deliberate and thoughtful design.

People are the soft side of culture. If you want to stand for customer service, then hiring friendly, outgoing, helpful people is a must. Apple hires people with great passion, because they believe that great success is the product of great passion.

Regardless of what you’re hiring for, employees need to be team players, willing to learn, grow and develop in their job assignments, and fully engaged in their work.

Training is a great way to communicate and promote your company culture, particularly onboarding training. Infusing your company’s culture into your new hires’ DNA right from the start is how you get them performing to your standards and expectations; your culture.

As important as training and skill development are to driving your culture, the example the leaders in your company set is more important. Your company’s leaders, through their behaviors, must be the walking, breathing and living testimony of your culture; they must completely embody your culture. Why so much emphasis on your leaders behaviors? Because seeing is believing!

People will listen to words first, then look for supporting behaviors. If the behaviors don’t match the words, cynicism creeps into your company, trust becomes an issue, and the foundation of your culture starts to crack.

Culture Drivers

In addition to training and the onboarding process, initiatives like recognition, rewards, fun and celebrations are key activities that drive culture and communicate what’s important and expected.

Fun activities after work hours bonds people closer together as a team, and provides opportunity to share insights and ideas. Celebrations, as simple as pizza for lunch, communicates and reinforces desired performance and behaviors.

Fun and celebrations don’t detract from work, they enhance it. The best way to see more of the behaviors and performance you desire is to recognize and reinforce those behaviors when you see them happening

Bottom line: Carefully measure your company’s culture and celebrate it constantly.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News and Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds