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3 Things to Know About Company Culture

Craig Dunaway

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Company Culture

Company culture is often easier to experience than to describe. It emerges from the company’s mission, values, expectations, goals and hiring choices—all things that shape the company’s direction and eventual success or demise. It also includes the workday experience of each employee. So, if the company culture is a critical part of a business’s identity, how do you define it? It’s actually less complicated than you would think.  Your company culture is defined by the things on which you place emphasis. In other words, it is a shared vision of what the company values.

Look at what you value most.

If you aren’t sure what your company’s culture is, look at what you value the most. What do you track on a daily basis? You may say it’s your customers, but are you actively monitoring how customers are treated? Do you track customer complaints? Are you looking at reports and feedback daily? If not, that probably isn’t what you actually value most. The things you are emphasizing, monitoring and controlling daily might be the guidepost to your company’s culture.

Culture is often defined by the leader. 

Company culture is often determined from the top down, and a leader’s personality and actions will affect the culture of the entire company. Look at the things you emphasize as important.  You are telling everyone in your organization these are the most important parts of your business. This then helps establish the culture. The processes and methodologies you use and the way you treat everyone, including employees, customers, key partners and more, will all permeate through your organization.

Being the leader of a business is not unlike being a parent. You are attempting to pass on your values to your employees the same way you would your kids, and they will pick up and learn from your points of view, the words you chose, the things you value the most and your ultimate day-to-day actions.

For example, at Penn Station, every employee is a zealot of the brand and totally focused on maximizing return on investment for our franchisees by ensuring we serve uniquely great products at a fair price. The more money our franchisees make, the more successful and prosperous the brand will be. Everything we do—providing guests with a great experience for a good value, helping franchisees reach financial and professional goals, providing franchisees an excellent product to serve—comes back to that culture of putting the brand first.

Hire with culture in mind.

It’s assumed you will find someone with the right skillset and educational qualifications when you make a hiring investment. Since that is a given, it’s important to look at more than just qualifications. Justin McLeod, the founder, and CEO of the dating app Hinge said: “I look for two things when I hire a new employee: ambition and humility. Without a proven track record of initiative and ambition, it’s likely the person becomes a drain rather than a contributor to the company — even the really smart, talented ones.”

Thus, once you access a potential employee’s skill set and conclude if they are ambitious and humble, determining if the potential new hire fits in with your team and your culture is key. Make sure their values and motivations align. Company culture can determine if someone likes their job and values the company for which they work. When your team buys into and furthers the culture, collaborates and focuses their energy and efforts toward the same common greater goal, you’ll have far fewer inconsistencies and ultimately better hiring and retention results. This ultimately should lead to greater success and more profitability for the company and your team.

It’s important to point out that you are NOT looking to hire clones. Diversity is important, and you should try to find employees with different perspectives and points of view. You also don’t want people who always agree or say yes. It’s good to be challenged, but an employee’s success is greatly determined by their ability to adapt to your organization also. If someone falls too far from the culture, they may constantly be going rogue or on tangents, which can create disenchantment with your entire team.

To find out if someone might fit with your culture, ask a lot of open-ended questions in the interview process designed to tell you more about their mindset and psyche. For example, “What values do you hold near and dear with your friends and coworkers?” or “Tell me about a company you worked for it and it didn’t turn out well. Why was that?” Also ask questions to learn more about their personality to get a better view of their life, lifestyle, and values.

Even if you aren’t intentional about creating and defining it, your business will develop a culture. Recognizing how your company culture is defined and shaped is important so that you can make sure you are hiring and leading with that in mind.

Craig Dunaway has been president of Penn Station since 1999. Before joining Penn Station Inc., Dunaway was a partner at the regional accounting firm of McCauley, Nicolas & Company, LLC in Jeffersonville, Indiana, where he had worked since 1982 in various staff and managerial positions. Dunaway has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Indiana University and is still a licensed CPA. Dunaway formerly had ownership interests in a Papa John’s® franchisee that owned 11 stores, and he served as the secretary/treasurer for that Papa John’s® franchisee. In addition, he had ownership interests in Coastal Cheesesteaks, LLC (headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina) until June 2011 and in Louisville Cheesesteaks, LLC (headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky) until January 2014, both of which are Penn Station franchisees. While a shareholder in those Penn Station franchisees, Dunaway served as secretary/treasurer. Penn Station was named one of the Best Franchises to Buy by Forbes in 2016 and 2018 and one of the Best Franchise Deals by QSR Magazine in 2016 and 2017.

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