The culture of your business is all about what are considered acceptable “norms” of behaviour in the organization. Norms that can be observed in cultural group behaviours around the world can also be seen in your company culture. The most basic ways individuals in groups interact together can be observed in greetings, food and hospitality, communication patterns, hierarchy and formality, and attitudes to those who are both “in” and “out” of the group. Let’s look at some of these in business settings:
1. Greetings: How do you greet customers? Or employees? Or your supply chain? In front of all the people in the waiting area, I watched a sales manager admonish a customer for coming unexpectedly. He spoke to her in a very contemptuous tone, angrily signed the form she needed, and went back to his office without saying goodbye.
Contrast this with the experience of a sales manager in company reception area #2. He greeted each customer as if speaking to a close personal friend, listened carefully and later sent helpful links and messages for follow up. And did I mention that the company has a once monthly “fun” day where they begin by employees recognizing each other and telling funny stories about their experiences at work? From the very first greeting, your company culture is showing.
2. Food and hospitality: Apparently companies with the highest ratings from both clients and employees also have a conscious approach to food. Google provides gourmet meals to its employees. A visit to Site Energy will always get you a cup of freshly ground coffee from their espresso machine. One TD bank branch offers bottles of water to customers waiting to meet with business officers, and mints for everyone. Several hotel chains have bowls of fruit at the entrance, one even serves fresh chocolate chip cookies every afternoon at 4:00. A food processing plant in Red Deer that changed its cafeteria to offer fresh and healthy food choices not only saw their production increase, but had an influx of quality applicants referred by happy employees. You are what you eat, and the carefully considered offering of food and drink, says a lot about the kind of company you are.
3. Communication: When you call a company and you get a string of recordings saying “if this then press #” that never apply to you, how do you feel about that company? Everyone has had the experience of the work order that is constantly lost and the confirmation numbers that mean nothing when trying to fix a cell phone problem. On the other hand those companies that answer quickly and have trained staff to give knowledgeable answers are gold. There are lots of ways to communicate and people may have their own comfort levels with familiarity and formality, but we all know when business communication is working –
My favorite story about great business communications is from a recent car accident. Within 45 minutes of the accident, both insurance companies had talked to each other, the assessor had made arrangements for the assessment, files between rental, assessment, insurance and auto body dealers were all in order and everyone in the supply chain could access any part of the chain to get answers for customers. Their excellent communications were evident in the one-to-one respectful, patient and efficient way the auto body shop employees communicated between each other as well. It was a company culture of well thought out communications.
How do individuals communicate with each other in your company? How do departments communicate? Are there checks and balances to find out if messages have been sent and received? If someone has a question, issue or comment, do they know where to go and to whom?
4. Hierarchy and formality: How do you want your workplace to be known? As a down-home place where everyone feels like they have known each other for years? As a courteous and formal place with grace and finesse? Let’s contrast my neighborhood garage with my neighborhood Mr. Lube. The garage is pretty dingy with a mechanic whose hands are always greasy and his desk messy. But you know you will get a warm smile and an honest assessment of your car issues. At the neighbourhood garage all employees are on an even footing and it is hard to tell who is the boss. I have never been over charged there and my car is always in good hands. The Mr. Lube on the other hand is very formal and professional. There are forms to sign and procedures to follow. No mess can be seen anywhere and there is a very efficient drive in and out process. Each person has a distinct job description and you always know who is the boss. I like both businesses. Decide on the level of formality and hierarchy that suits your business and then make it your trademark.
5. In and out groups: How you view your own and how you view those who are not part of your group will be visible as soon as someone speaks with you on the phone, comes into your place of business or reads your company email response. My daughter-in-law recently did a downtown “how welcoming is your business” study for an anthropology course she was taking. She is a lovely young black Haitian woman who is, stylish, confident and friendly. For her study, my daughter-in-law visited 10 different family owned businesses within walking distance of each other. One West African business-woman expressed surprise when my daughter-in-law did not use the expected cultural greeting. After finding out she was not from her country of origin, the store owner turned her back and walked away. A Hispanic store-owner firmly said my daughter-in-law would not find anything to her liking before she was even through the door. Two more business owners seemed uncomfortable by her presence and were indifferent to her. Fortunately she finished her unpleasant anthropological experience with two positive experiences. Upon entering a Halal meat store owned by a Lebanese businessman, he greeted her with enthusiasm, gave her a tour of the store and explained details of his merchandise with pride. Next she had a very welcoming experience with a Chinese optical store where employees were not only very happy to see her but gave her the best deal on prescription sun glasses she had ever seen, telling her to recommend them to her friends. Guess where she decided to make purchases and which businesses she recommended? I heard this story watching my daughter-in-law eat her BBQ halal meat while wearing her bling-y new sunglasses. Being the champion that she is, all her friends are now patrons of those two stores where she felt that she was part of the “in” group of customers.
In summary, the culture of your business is speaking louder than your words. As you become more conscious of the greetings, food and hospitality messaging, communication style, and the degree of hierarchy and formality you would like your business to be known for, your branding will become a laser-focused message to potential customers. On the one hand if you want your customer base to diversify, increase the number of “in” groups you are open to and think of ways to make them feel comfortable with your business. If on the other hand you want your customer base to grow primarily with in a specific target group, increase your network in that particular group and make it obvious what kind of customer you are targeting. A final recommendation: since your business can’t “not” have a culture, you might as well be conscious about using it!
By Marie Gervais, PhD – Global Leadership Associates