Uber has the dubious distinction of having one of the most toxic company cultures in the business world today. The company’s troubles have stimulated an important discussion: How do you build good corporate culture?
It’s not necessarily about investors or the Board of Directors hobbling the CEO because CEOs can be great stewards of company culture. “I think there are a select number of entrepreneurs who have proven that, so even in some of our private companies, we’re open-minded when CEOs say, ‘Hey, we like the idea over the long term of having control’ if they’ve proven that they’re great stewards of capital,” said General Atlantic Managing Director Anton Levy in an interview with Fortune.
But how do you build good company culture? “If I look across our portfolio and see the companies that have accelerated growth, a lot of it is companies that were able to attract the right people, empower people in the right way, and drive a really good culture,” said Kristen Green of Forerunner Ventures. “And that started with the founders having a commitment to that. Baking [good company culture] in as early as possible is incredibly important.”
If you’re looking to build—or rebuild—your company’s culture, here are some quick tips.
Define your current company culture
It’s crucial to agree on a definition for culture before you start working on it. “The definition we offer: that company culture is ‘patterns of accepted behavior and the beliefs and values that promote and reinforce them,’” writes author Erika Andersen. Then ground that definition in practical experience by thinking and talking about currently accepted behaviors in your company and the beliefs and values from which those behaviors arise.
Understand the “why”
Venture capitalist Anthony K. Tjan suggests in a Harvard Business Review article that you begin by coming to a common understanding of your purpose. This is about your company’s mission: What calling does your business serve? This statement should feel authentic, inspirational, and aspirational. Bring a diverse group into the team putting together this statement.
Define your values
Once you’ve clarified your company’s mission, it’s time to define core values. Say out loud what’s important to you about how you conduct business and interact with your colleagues. Define three to five core values by starting with a sentence like, “We care deeply about [behavior]; it’s how we want to do business,” suggests Andersen.
Lead by example
Show your company culture in action. Be a leader who embodies everything you want in your employees and exemplifies the behavior you expect. “These types of leaders have not just an incredible passion and work ethic for what they do, but a cultural ethic in that how they do what they do inspires others,” writes Tjan.
Identify cultural ambassadors
Find the people who love your company and what it stands for. They embody the values you’ve defined, and when they talk about their work, their story comes from the heart because they believe in what you’re doing. These are your best cheerleaders for building a good company culture. In order to keep them loving the company, thank these cultural ambassadors and reward them in a tangible way.
Use the Golden Rule
Ultimately, the best corporate culture involves people who treat others how they want to be treated. Typically that involves seeking truth, and speaking and acting with integrity. This requires the ability to be completely honest about your strengths, weaknesses, and biases. By modeling this behavior, your employees will realize it’s all right to be honest about these things, too.
Building, evolving, and transforming company culture takes time and hard work. This work is best done at the very beginning of a company’s history rather than later on when serious problems crop up and become a PR disaster, as they have at Uber. But it’s never too late to transform your company’s culture.