Unicorns aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, but they’re not quite as rare as they once were. Today, private companies with a valuation in excess of $1 billion number more than 300, prompting some analysts to look for a more precise indicator of unicorn potential. According to a report from Comparably, that indicator is culture.
Now that Millennials are the biggest generation in the workforce, companies of all sizes are scrambling to align their values with the preferences of this influential group. Millennials favor an increased focus on company culture, which — seemingly unbeknownst to many corporate leaders — has little to do with ping-pong tables and bean-bag chairs.
People value culture because it gives them a reason to go to work besides the paycheck. That said, different people have different priorities with regard to company culture. Across even a small group of employees, you might have some who want to create social change, some who are excited about environmental efforts, and others who are motivated by work-life balance. Gather input to brainstorm how to create a culture that resonates with everyone. Once you have an ideal, the following steps will help you enact it.
1. Establish KPIs for culture.
Key performance indicators are an important tool for companies to gauge performance. They help measure the impact of marketing decisions, the cost savings of a new manufacturing method, and even the reduction of fossil fuel emissions when UPS drivers avoid turning left. If you hope to make a significant change in your company culture, measure that change with KPIs.
According to Mario Peshev, CEO of DevriX, culture is a vital part of the performance equation: “Culture-driven KPIs helped us reduce turnover by 30 percent. As we already have our traits defined, an exemplary scenario helps to assess culture fit over the first weeks.” Whether your goals are creating a tight-knit team or making a measurable impact in the community, set KPIs that clearly demonstrate success or failure. Want to encourage your employees to log more volunteer hours? Start sending out a quarterly email newsletter about volunteer opportunities, pay them for their time, and track employee engagement. Metrics allow you to pinpoint and make a change when you don’t get the results you’re looking for.
2. Keep the crosshairs on quality.
Don’t expect even a slight dip in quality to go unnoticed by your customers. When manufacturing issues led to production of Hershey’s Kisses with broken tips in the midst of the 2018 holiday baking season, the outcry was audible. The problem was quickly resolved, thanks to a company culture focused on quality — which founder Milton Hershey considered the best form of advertising, so much so that the company didn’t even have a marketing department until the 1960s. When you focus on creating a strong product or service, you’ll develop a culture in which your employees both take pride in their work and feel encouraged to innovate in order to create and improve products.
Whatever you want your brand to be known for, ensure you’re striving to be the best at it. In the oft-impersonal world of e-commerce, for example, Zappos is known for excellent customer service. When a woman called a service agent to return boots she’d purchased for her recently deceased father, the agent refunded her purchase, told her to keep the boots, and even sent flowers. Find your own ways to encourage your employees to focus on creating strong products and offering superior services. Over time, these efforts will become an integral part of your culture.
3. Walk your talk.
Don’t just advertise your company’s mission. Show employees that you mean it, and they’ll do the same. “It’s not enough to set forth sustainability expectations for others,” says Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, president and CEO of Earth Friendly Products, maker of ECOS cleaning solutions. “Those same principles (on everything from waste reduction to carbon neutrality) should guide your actions, day in and day out — professionally and personally.”
The company’s mission is to make clean compatible with green, and Vlahakis-Hanks’ actions show employees that a focus on sustainability is more than just a marketing mantra. She lives in an eco-conscious home and offers her team members financial incentives to adopt green practices themselves. When you’re committed to your brand’s mission, you encourage every employee to follow suit. This authenticity will seep into every interaction employees have, whether it’s with each other or with customers. People will notice this genuine passion.
Creating the right culture isn’t an overnight effort, and you might even face resistance along the way. Ultimately, however, if you measure your culture initiatives, maintain a focus on quality, and lead by example, you’ll plant seeds that will one day blossom into the culture you’ve imagined.
Editor In Chief at ReadWrite
Brad is the editor overseeing contributed content at ReadWrite.com. He previously worked as an editor at PayPal and Crunchbase. You can reach him at brad at readwrite.com.