Today’s Dear Coach is about three initial steps you can take towards building a positive business culture.

Leaders talk about the importance of having a Vision, Mission, and Values. But, those often remain concepts held in a business owner’s head rather than principles that actively guide company actions. I do the following exercises with clients who are looking to take their business to the next level. These form the foundation that supports growth, and I’ll share real-life examples of each.

First, Vision is about how we move ourselves and our companies forward in a way that can be distinguished from others in our industry. I work with a mother-daughter owned website design business. As we brainstormed the vision for their company, they began with generic statements that could have been made by any designer. After asking them questions and getting them to be more specific, they finally declared that what they want is to transform the web industry by eradicating ugly, overpriced, ineffective sites. With that one statement of their role in the larger business world, they had total conviction in how they approached their operations, their marketing, and their branding. They now consider it their quest to, and I quote, “eliminate crappy websites from the planet.”

Second, Mission moves us from the external business world to our internal company expectations, answering the question What do we want to accomplish? I work with a third-generation pest control company whose owner is highly committed to delivering “the ultimate level of service.” His mission informs everything we work on together, from new employee orientation and training, to creating systems and procedures that ensure the best possible customer experience. Employees know that they’re expected to uphold the mission, and they also see the owner walk his talk. In return for outstanding customer service that has built a loyal following, the team receives regular acknowledgements like gift cards and bonuses. So actively practicing what they preach is now embedded into their culture.

Third, Core Business Values are critical to attracting individuals who share ethical principles. I like the idea from Gino Wickman’s book Get A Grip. You brainstorm everything you feel is important to your organization’s conduct, and pare down the list to your top five values. Next, make a chart with the five values listed in a row across the top, and the name of everyone in the company listed down the left-hand side. Every single person, including the owner, is evaluated in relation to how they demonstrate the company’s shared values. This exercise was very powerful for a particularly gentle client of mine who struggled with firing bad employees. When she could objectively see what her superstars contributed in direct comparison to their problematic counterparts, she understood the disservice she had done to valuable employees. We formed a plan to reward excellence, provide training to those who needed to improve, and fire those unable to change. It transformed the energy in her office when she let a few employees go and replaced them with people who shared the company’s values.

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Small Business, Big Voices: Episode 12