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Holiday Time: Buliding a Celebratory Company Culture

By Michelle Collins |

Whether you have two people working out of a spare bedroom, or a classy downtown office with 25 employees you have a company culture. The holiday season is a time when that culture really comes to the forefront with events such as office parties and charitable causes. This makes it the perfect time to consider the culture of your business. What do you want to convey and how are you going to do this?

In many respects culture is the internal brand of a company. People talk about the brand which is usually the experience that the customer has in terms of buying products and services. To me, culture is the internal brand, it's the experience that the employees have,” explains Richard Pringle, co-president of GrantStream, a consulting company that helps businesses with strategic community involvement.

While many companies recognize that culture is an important and valuable aspect of the business it is a very hard thing to pin down. Many businesses will attempt to define this culture by writing mission and value statements that appear in their company literature and websites. Yet the reality is that these words can be difficult to put into practice.

“Often you read that the most important thing for employees is compensation and benefits. But in my experience while those are important housekeeping details, ultimately it's the culture of the place that keeps people coming back. They're willing to take less pay, and work in a less glorious place if they feel that their ideas are valued.”

A time of giving

If you are considering how you can use holiday festivities as a way of further defining your own company culture, community involvement is one of the ways that this can be achieved in a very tangible way says Pringle.

Community investment, as Pringle describes it, offers businesses an avenue to represent themselves in a certain light to the community and create goodwill within the company as employees have the opportunity to help the less fortunate.

It is also an area that Pringle has seen change greatly over the last ten years. Gone are the days where an executive opened the paper, read about a certain cause and signed a cheque. Today companies spend more time thinking about what causes they want to support and what kind of mutual benefits can be enjoyed.

“Over the past number of years that idea has changed and now people are investing in order to give some kind of benefit, and it's a shared benefit. First and foremost if it's done right it should be a benefit for the community. Secondly, it should reflect positively on your company so that it enhances value there as well. It's the notion of leveraging what you're doing, not necessarily to generate increased sales today or tomorrow, but to reinforce that you are a good company, and this is how we live our values.”

Good things come in small packages

If you're like a lot of small businesses you don't have the financial resources to donate to a charitable cause. What you do have is expertise, which can be even more valuable than money.

“Often times the people who are running small community based charities have a few staff that's driven by volunteers. They don't have the expertise [that you may have]. That translates into money for the charity because if they needed these services they would have to pay for them,” explains Pringle.

Of course, this time of year can be busy for you and your staff so you may not have the time to donate. This doesn't have to stop you from adding this charitable aspect to your culture. Here are a few suggestions that Pringle offers:

  • Organize a toy drive: Ask employees to bring in gently used or new toys that can be donated to a local children's charity. This can be a simple and low cost exercise that brings a lot of value to the community.
  • Cause related marketing: You can tie the sale of a product or service to providing a benefit for a good cause, such as offering to donate a certain percentage to a designated charity.
  • Free advertising: Offer your store window or website as a place where the charity can promote upcoming events such as a Christmas fundraiser.

Employee buy-in

All of your intentions and attempts at creating a positive culture will fall by the wayside if your employees aren't willing to support your efforts. Many times business owners or managers will attempt to create or assert a company culture by spouting lofty ideals, or offering lots of benefits. However, if these things don't mean anything to the employees they aren't going to achieve what you are hoping for.

Pringle offers a simple solution. Instead of starting from the top down and dictating to the employees what the culture will be, start from the bottom up and ask the employees what kind of culture they want to work in.

“Rather than organize a meeting between the owners or managers and have them thrash out an idea, sit your employees down with a box of doughnuts, coffee, and a flipchart or bulletin board. Ask them what it means to work there, or what it should mean. Build those ideals from the bottom up. Now the employees feel a sense of ownership and they have been given the opportunity to contribute.”

As the business owner it is now your job to implement these ideals and reward them when they are put into practice. It isn't enough to put it on paper and expect it to happen, says Pringle. When you walk by an office and see or hear your employee's putting those values into action, reward them with acknowledgement and praise.

Revisit these values

So you've talked to your employees about the kinds of things they think can improve your company culture, and maybe you're working on organizing that toy drive, things appear to be working out well and everyone is working in a healthy culture. To keep this positive culture going you need to evaluate the situation on an ongoing basis and generate a dialogue between yourself and your employees.

“In smaller companies this doesn't have to be formal, it can be as simple as sitting down with your employees and asking them about the program. If you hear the employee say they wish, or it would be really nice if this happened, that's an indication that something needs to be tweaked.”


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